Niklas Backstrom has given the Minnesota Wild great goaltending during a three-game win streak. The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, are having trouble keeping the puck out of their goal.

The Wild will try for a season-high fourth straight victory Sunday night when they host the Red Wings.

Backstrom has yielded one goal in each of the last three games for Minnesota (16-13-4), posting a .970 save percentage en route to his longest win streak of the season. While he has been impressive, Backstrom also credits the rugged play of his defensemen during this run.

“You have to be sharp, you have to have emotion out there when you play,” he said. “Sure you have to be smart and do the right plays but you know, you get bumps, you get bruises, but you’re in the game, you feel sharper.”

Detroit (21-9-4), meanwhile, has yielded four goals in every game of a 1-2-1 stretch, falling into a tie with Dallas atop the Western Conference. It’s the first time in more than seven years that the Red Wings have conceded four goals in four consecutive games, and they haven’t done in it in five straight since December 1998.

Jimmy Howard and backup Chris Osgood have each made two starts during this stretch, and it’s unclear which goaltender will be in net Sunday. Osgood missed a chance to become the 10th goalie in NHL history with 400 wins after he made 21 saves in a 4-3 loss at St. Louis on Thursday.

Osgood is 2-4-1 with a 3.18 goals-against average in eight career starts at Minnesota. Howard, 3-4-0 with a 3.44 GAA in his last seven starts, is 3-1-1 with a 2.73 GAA in five career games against the Wild.

Detroit was outshot 14-9 while falling behind 3-1 after the first period against the Blues. The Red Wings failed to score in the third despite a 15-4 advantage in shots.

“You’ve got to start on time and you’ve got to get the lead in this league,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Or else it makes it hard on you.”

The Red Wings are adjusting to playing without top scorer Pavel Datsyuk, who suffered a broken bone in his right hand in a 5-4 overtime win over Vancouver on Wednesday.

“He’s our go-to guy when we need a goal or to get the power play going,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He’s going to be missed, that’s for sure. That’s why we need all the guys to step up.”

Detroit has yielded at least one power-play goal in a season-high seven straight games, and its penalty-killing unit should be challenged by a Minnesota power play that ranks fifth in the league at 23.5 percent. The Wild are tied for the league lead at 31.8 percent since Dec. 9.

Minnesota won 4-3 at Detroit on Nov. 19 on John Madden’s goal in overtime. Martin Havlat and Nick Schultz each had two assists.

The Red Wings are still 14-2-3 in their last 19 against the Wild, and Backstrom has lost five of six starts against them while posting a 3.46 GAA.

“Hopefully everyone will be able to enjoy these two days and get away from hockey, and spend time with family and friends,” Minnesota coach Todd Richards said after a 3-1 win at Colorado on Thursday. “But it’s short-lived because we’ve got a big game on the 26th versus Detroit.”

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.


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