After failing last season to win the Central Division for the first time in a decade, the Detroit Red Wings are back in first place while surging to the top of the Western Conference.
They haven’t been successful at all in trying to beat the Dallas Stars.
The Red Wings seek their first win in three tries against the Stars this season when they wrap up a four-game road trip Wednesday night, while Dallas looks to tie Detroit atop the West with a regulation win.
Detroit recorded 102 points last season despite several significant injuries to key players, ending up second in the Central for the first time since 2000, behind eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
Detroit (23-9-4) has remained healthy for much of this season, part of the reason why it’s back atop the division, but beating the surprise Pacific leader has been harder than expected.
On Oct. 14 in Dallas, Kari Lehtonen carried a shutout midway into the third period and the Stars won 4-1 despite managing just 15 shots on goal. The teams then met Dec. 19 in Detroit, where Brenden Morrow tied the game late in regulation and Loui Eriksson scored in the final minute of overtime to give Dallas a 4-3 victory.
Injuries have started to mount since then for Detroit, which is without the high-scoring Danny Cleary (broken ankle) and Pavel Datsyuk (broken hand) until roughly the end of January. Cleary is tied for the team lead with 16 goals and Datsyuk is second with 39 points.
The Red Wings also are without Mike Modano – the Stars’ franchise scoring leader – indefinitely after wrist surgery last month.
Henrik Zetterberg, though, is healthy and leads the club with 28 assists and 41 points. Named the NHL’s second star of the week Monday, Zetterberg has three goals and five assists in a four-game points streak, helping Detroit to a 3-1-0 record.
He drew an assist Monday in Colorado, but Chris Osgood was the star. He tied a career high with 46 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory to become the 10th goaltender in NHL history with 400 wins.
“Our guys just dug down deep and we played really well,” Osgood said.
Jimmy Howard is expected back between the pipes in search of his league-leading 20th win this season. Howard has won four of six since losing back-to-back starts on Dec. 6 and 8 and has posted a 2.19 goals-against average in five career starts against the Stars, although he’s just 1-3-1.
Dallas (22-11-4) returns home looking to avoid its fourth loss in five games at the American Airlines Center, but after a surprising road win, it can match Detroit’s 50 points with a regulation victory.
The Stars got third-period goals from light-scoring Mark Fistric and Krys Barch, and backup Andrew Raycroft stopped 44 shots in a 4-2 win over Nashville on Tuesday.
Fistric and Barch had combined for one assist in 38 games between them coming in.
“I thought the third period was our best,” coach Marc Crawford said. “It wasn’t our best game, but it was certainly the hardest of the last three that we have played. When you get two unlikely guys like Fistric and Barch to score for you, then you should win.”
Eriksson also had a goal an assist. He has two goals and two assists in the two wins over Detroit, as does Brad Richards.
Though Raycroft has allowed seven goals while winning his last three starts, Lehtonen will likely start Wednesday.
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