DETROIT – In the four previous meetings between the Wings and St. Louis this season the home team has held serve.
The same happened Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Behind a 21-save performance from Jimmy Howard and power play goals from Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall the Wings skated off with a 3-1 win over the Blues, their franchise-record 17th straight win on home ice.
“Every game is a big one of us,” said Datsyuk, who also had an assist to increase his team-leading point total to 53. “Every team (we play) it’s a fight. And we keep St. Louis behind. That’s a big win. Nobody was saving energy before All-Star break, everyone can rest after.”
Detroit, which plays at Montreal on Wednesday before the All-Start break, leads the NHL with 67 points and is now three points ahead of the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division.
Johan Franzen also scored for the Wings, who last lost at home on Nov. 3 to the Calgary Flames. They’re now just three wins away from tying the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers for longest home winning streak at 20 games.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” said Howard, who gave up two goals or less for a 29th time in 40 appearances this season in picking up his league-leading 30th win. “The whole game, every single game’s been very competitive and has come down to the third period. Again tonight, we got going there in the second period and we were able to get two huge points.”
Chris Porter scored for St. Louis and Jaroslav Halak, who is now 2-4-1 lifetime against Detroit, made 25 saves.
“It’s really impressive,” Howard said when asked about the home win streak. “First period I didn’t think we played the way we are capable of. Babs told us after the first it looked like they were the team playing for first place and we were just playing any normal game. I think that really lit a fire under everyone and got us going.”
The Wings fell 1-0 midway through the first period, taking advantage of a poor line change.
Things got feisty with a minute left to play after Brad Stuart delivered a clean check on Alex Pietrangelo just as he crossed over the Wings’ blue line.
About 40 seconds after the hit, the Blues’ Chris Stewart came of the bench and went right after Stuart. The two dropped their gloves and fought. Stewart, who was suspended three games earlier this season for running Kronwall into the boards head first, received an extra two minutes for instigating the fight and a 10-minute misconduct. Stuart got five minutes for fighting.
“I thought Stewie did a good job burying Pietrangelo there and they came to his defense,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought it was game on. We weren’t ready to play at the level they wanted to play at the start of the game. It took us awhile to get going then I thought we were pretty good. It was a physical game, it was fun for our guys. They’re a good team, we’re a good team.”
“We stayed more disciplined,” Stuart said. “We have a lot of experience in the room and we know that getting involved in a lot of that stuff doesn’t help you. It wastes energy, it wastes time and in their case it cost them a couple goals … and we know that.”
Stewart’s minor penalty carried over to the second period and Datsyuk tied things up keeping the puck on his stick like only he can do. Datsyuk first put a move on Alex Pietrangelo to make him go down to block what the Blues defenseman thought was going to be a shot. Then, he got the puck on his backhand and Tomas Holmstrom providing the screen rang a shot off the inside of the post to beat Halak just 51 seconds into the second period.
Just eight minutes later, Franzen bagged his team-leading 19th goal backhanding in a rebound off a Blues defenseman after a blast from the point by Jonathan Ericsson. Franzen spun with the puck on his stick and shoved it inside the post before Halak could get his pad over.
“I think everyone just competed a little harder,” said Kronwall, who matched a career-high in goals with his 11th. “In the first period it didn’t look like we were in the same game as they were. After Stewie’s hit, we were able to get back on track and just started skating and competing harder and got pucks down low and our forwards did a great job.”
Kronwall capped the night with a power-play goal with three minutes left to play.
“Our power play hasn’t been kicking as well of late and that’s something that we’ve been talking about,” Kronwall said. “Now it’s enough talk and lets go out and try to get a goal or two, and tonight, obviously, we got a lot of guys in front with Homer, Bert and Bear, who did a great job of really screening their goalie.”
In last 13 games the Blues have just three losses in regulation, all three have been to the Wings. The teams don’t meet again until April 4.