With the President's Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the postseason secured, the Detroit Red Wings could have been a bit vulnerable in their final meeting of the season with the Blackhawks.
But in a familiar script in every meeting this season, the Red Wings jumped on the Hawks early Thursday night, got bored just enough to let the Hawks think they had a chance to be in the game, then stepped on the gas for a convincing victory. This time it was a 7-3 decision before 15,117 at the United Center, many of whom made the trip from Michigan.
It could have been worse. Not only were the Wings without leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, nursing an injury, but they dressed only 18 players rather than the customary 20.
For the third time this season, the Wings sent goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin scrambling for the safety of the bench. He was beaten five times on 17 shots, including three goals in the first 7 minutes 25 seconds.
In eight games against Detroit, Khabibulin was 1-5-1 with an 4.86 goals-against average and an .853 save percentage. The Wings took a 3-0 lead on goals from Brendan Shanahanwho wound up with a hat trickand two from Henrik Zetterberg.
"Our defensemen struggled," Hawks coach Trent Yawney said. "Four of their goals came off turnovers, [when] we had the puck and didn't make the right play. Nik wasn't up to what he normally is, and against Detroit that's a bad combination."
Like nearly every game in the season series, the Hawks climbed back into the game with a pair of goalsone short-handed by Kyle Calder and another by Radim Vrbata, whose centering pass Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios deflected past Manny Legace 46 seconds into the second period.
But just as fast as the Hawks thought they were back in the game, they were out of it. Detroit scored three more times in a span of 5:27from Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom and a second from Shanahan.
About the only positive on the night for the Hawks was the return of Tuomo Ruutu after missing 37 games with an ankle injury.
Ruutu played 8:20 with no shots and recorded two hits in the first period but got a game misconduct in the third period.
"I was minus-2, and I should have had my legs moving better," Ruutu said. "When I don't move my legs, my game's not so beautiful."
Yawney, though, was pleased.
"Lots of energy, wanted to run over everything that moves," he said. "It was good for him to get that out of his system."
The Red Wings' 11th straight road victory is an NHL record. They had shared the record with Buffalo, St. Louis and New Jersey.
The Hawks sent defenseman James Wisniewski back to Norfolk after the game. Defenseman Danny Richmond was recalled.
Khabibulin picked up his first point of the season when he assisted on Calder's goal. Thursday was the sixth time this season Khabibulin has been pulled. Aside from the three against Detroit, he was also lifted in games against Dallas and Nashville and when he injured his groin against St. Louis.
Patrick Sharp had a short-handed goal, the sixth for the Hawks.
Detroit captain Steve Yzerman was scratched.
Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith was a minus-5 on the night, while Detroit's Andreas Lilja was a plus-5.
Red Wings 7, Blackhawks 3
Old story: Wings chase Khabibulin
Offensive onslaught buries goaltender; Ruutu back on ice
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