CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks were hoping last week’s victory over the Detroit Red Wings could spark a winning streak and help them extend their lead atop the Central Division.
That hasn’t been the case.
The Blackhawks, who haven’t won since beating their Original Six rival, try to avoid losing four straight for the first time in almost three years Sunday night in a rematch against the Red Wings at the United Center.
There was plenty of excitement surrounding the meeting in Chicago on Dec. 30 – the latest the longtime rivals had faced each other for the first time in a season since 1928-29 – with the Blackhawks (24-13-4) tied atop the Western Conference followed closely by Detroit (25-14-1). The Red Wings twice grabbed one-goal leads but Chicago answered each time and went on to win 3-2.
Brent Seabrook scored the winner 1:52 into the third, helping the Blackhawks win for the fifth time in six games in the series and open up a five-point lead over the second-place Wings in the Central Division.
Chicago’s lead over Detroit has dwindled to a point, as it’s dropped three in a row and the Red Wings have won two of three, but that isn’t its only problem. The Blackhawks have also fallen a point behind surprising St. Louis for the division lead.
The Blackhawks, who haven’t lost four in a row since a five-game skid from March 13-20, 2009, are coming off Friday’s 4-0 loss to Colorado. Corey Crawford stopped 18 shots but it wasn’t entirely his fault, as mistakes by defenseman Nick Leddy directly led to two Avalanche goals. The Blackhawks have surrendered 13 goals in the last three games after yielding six in the previous four contests (3-1-0).
“We’ve given up too many goals that can be prevented with positioning and awareness,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
Chicago’s defense was much better against the Red Wings, preventing Detroit’s top four goal scorers – Johan Franzen (16), Valtteri Filppula (13), Pavel Datsyuk (12) and Jiri Hudler (12) – from registering a single shot. Crawford made 26 saves in that game, improving to 5-1-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average against the Red Wings since the start of last season.
Jonathan Toews, who leads Chicago with 22 goals, scored on a penalty shot in last week’s meeting, while former Red Wing Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks’ leader with 42 points, also found the back of the net. Toews, Hossa and the rest of Chicago’s offense appeared sluggish against the Avalanche on Friday, mustering five first-period shots.
“We didn’t deserve anything,” Quenneville said. “We got what we deserved. We got to be excited with what’s up next for us – a great, big game against Detroit.”
The Red Wings return to Chicago after losing to Toronto 4-3 on Saturday, their second defeat in six games. Detroit rallied to tie the score at 3 behind goals from Hudler, Todd Bertuzzi and Niklas Kronwall after trailing 3-0 in the first, but couldn’t complete the comeback. Joffrey Lupul beat Jimmy Howard at 7:10 of the third period for the game-winner.
“That was un-Red Wing-like,” coach Mike Babcock said. “You can’t win every night in the league playing like that.”
Howard finished with 14 saves and fell short of notching his 100th career victory in his first chance. He is 4-2-0 with a 2.35 GAA in starting the last six games for Detroit, but is 1-4-0 with a 3.44 GAA in five games against the Blackhawks since 2010-11. He stopped 25 shots at the United Center last week.
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