Thanks to some inspired play from AHL callup Joey MacDonald, the Detroit Red Wings hardly missed a beat while All-Star goaltender Jimmy Howard healed from a broken finger.
With Howard expected to return to the net, the surging Red Wings will try to collect a season high-tying seventh consecutive win Tuesday night without leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk when they visit the rival Chicago Blackhawks.
Detroit appeared to suffer a major blow when Howard fractured his right index finger during a 4-3 shootout win in Vancouver on Feb. 2, but after suffering consecutive defeats for the first time in 6 1/2 weeks, the Red Wings quickly rebounded with MacDonald's help.
The journeyman, who was recalled from Grand Rapids on Feb. 3, led Detroit on a sweep of a six-game homestand and to an NHL-record 23rd consecutive victory at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, 3-2 over San Jose.
"Let's be honest, if things weren't going well, (Howard) would have been in two or three games ago," coach Mike Babcock said following MacDonald's 31-save effort. "Why would we when we had some time for him to get better? So it worked out really well."
Even with that gaudy streak, the Red Wings (41-17-2) remain only five points ahead of St. Louis in the Central Division and two in front of Vancouver in the Western Conference. That's in part because of a lackluster 15-15-1 road record, and now Detroit will be without Datsyuk for two weeks after he had arthroscopic surgery Tuesday to remove fragments from his right knee.
Datsyuk leads the Red Wings with 59 points.
Detroit will try to move on against a Blackhawks team that has provided three very competitive matchups this season. The Red Wings fell 3-2 at the United Center on Dec. 30 but recorded a pair of 3-2 overtime victories - one in Chicago on Jan. 8 and another in Detroit on Jan. 14.
The Blackhawks might be ready to give the Red Wings another challenge after winning three in row following an 0-8-1 skid. After routing Columbus 6-1 on Saturday, Chicago (32-21-7) beat St. Louis 3-1 in its return from a season-high, nine-game trip the next day.
The Blackhawks, winners in six of seven at home, got some luck that had been missing from some of their more recent games when Dave Bolland's pass through the crease in the third period went off Blues captain David Backes' stick and into the net for the go-ahead goal.
"We learned a lot in that losing streak and brought those lessons to this game," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We were able to play a patient game and win it."
Marian Hossa added an empty-netter for his third goal in four contests following a six-game point drought. The winger has three goals and nine assists during a nine-game point streak against his former team.
Howard, whose 32 wins are tied for the NHL lead, will try to stop that run with help from some extra padding in his blocker to protect his finger and a modified stick that will be easier to grip.
Even when fully healthy, Howard hasn't appeared overly comfortable against Chicago during his career with a 4-5-1 record and a 3.06 goals-against average in 10 matchups. He has posted a 2.44 GAA while splitting two this season, and he's 3-2-0 with a 2.99 GAA in five career games at the United Center.
The Blackhawks might start Corey Crawford, who has allowed a combined four goals over his last three games after giving up 19 over his previous five. Crawford is 5-2-2 with a 2.20 GAA in nine career games against Detroit.
Along with Howard, the Red Wings could get veteran forward Danny Cleary back from an injured left knee Tuesday. Cleary has two goals and an assist over his last three games in Chicago.
The Blackhawks will be without leading goal scorer Jonathan Toews due to an upper-body injury.