The Detroit Red Wings will end the 2010-11 season the same way they almost always do—as Central Division champions.
Nicklas Lidstrom scored to help the Detroit Red Wings beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Sunday night and clinch their ninth division title in 10 seasons and the 14th since 1991-92 when he was a rookie.
“I’ve got a few of those,” Lidstrom joked, gesturing toward the Central Division champs red T-shirt and black baseball cap that awaited him in his locker after the game. “We’re in a tough division with Nashville and Chicago, so it always matters to finish first.”
The Red Wings moved one point ahead of idle San Jose, which has played one fewer game, for second place in the Western Conference with a week left in the regular season.
Perhaps more importantly, Detroit is getting some key players back on the ice.
Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk played for the first time since March 17, returning from a lower body injury, and Jimmy Howard made 27 saves in his second straight game after missing two because of an injured left shoulder.
“As soon as Pav gets on the ice, the whole team suddenly has more space,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Calgary 2 Colorado 1; New York Rangers 3 Philadelphia 2 (SO); Buffalo 2 Carolina 1 (OT); St. Louis 6 Columbus 1; Tampa Bay 2 Chicago 0; and Dallas 4 Anaheim 3.
At Detroit, Brad Staubitz scored his third goal of the season to pull Minnesota within one early in the second period and helped set up Carson McMillan’s goal in his NHL debut with 3:06 left to make it 4-2.
“I thought our defence competed and played hard,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “We lacked the other things you need against a team as good as that.”
Detroit hasn’t started well at home lately, but did against the Wild when Darren Helm scored 2:46 in. Lidstrom scored with 20 seconds left in the first period.
After Staubitz gave the Wild some hope with a goal early in the second, Tomas Holmstrom restored Detroit’s two-goal lead midway through the period.
Johan Franzen’s goal might not have meant much in the game, but it was potentially a good sign for the Red Wings because they will need him to be the scoring threat in the playoffs that he has been in the past. He scored for just the second time since a five-goal game on Feb. 2 at Ottawa.
While not overly important, this goal allowed Detroit to coast in a game that gave the storied franchise another division title.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the only other team to win the Central Division since 2001, breaking Detroit’s streak last year before winning the Stanley Cup.
“The first thing that pops out at you is the skill level,” Minnesota winger Andrew Brunette said. “The way they make the first pass, they’ve got Lidstrom, whose the best at it. I think he’s the best player in the league in the past 15 years.”
At Denver, Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 34 shots, Alex Tanguay had a goal and an assist, and Calgary boosted its post-season chances by beating Colorado.
At Philadelphia, Wojtek Wolski’s shootout goal lifted New York Rangers to a victory over the Flyers. The Rangers picked up two points to remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
At Raleigh, N.C., Marc-Andre Gragnani scored 2:56 into overtime to lift Buffalo over Carolina. Buffalo, kept hold of seventh place in the Eastern Conference and the Hurricanes earned one point to move to 87, two behind the eighth-place Rangers.
At Columbus, Ohio, Patrik Berglund scored twice and Jaroslav Halak had 23 saves to lead St. Louis over the Blue Jackets.
At Chicago, backup Mike Smith made 31 saves for his first shutout in more than a year, and Vincent Lecavalier scored a power-play goal in the first period before leaving with an injury in Tampa Bay’s win over the Blackhawks.
At Anaheim, Calif., Mike Ribeiro scored twice and Dallas helped its playoff hopes with a victory over the Ducks.