Even though they are clearly not the dominant team they have been in the pastat least during the regular seasonthe Detroit Red Wings are still a team that other NHL teams measure themselves againstincluding the Blackhawks.
Feeling good about themselves with 13 points in their last eight games, the Hawks were hoping to prove that the Central Division is more than just Nashville, Detroit and three minnows while playing their first meaningful December game in four years.
Despite making strides, the Hawks still have some ground to travel, falling 3-2 Thursday to again drop below the break-even mark.
Former Hawks goaltender Dominik Hasek played a vintage Hasek gameflopping around the crease like a fish on a dockwhile making 29 saves and outplaying his fellow Stanley Cup-winning counterpart Nikolai Khabibulin, who had 23 saves.
The loss was the Hawks first in regulation since Denis Savard took over as coach nine games ago, but the ever-optimistic Savard was still highlighting the positives.
"We played well," Savard said. "We had a lot of chances, it was a good game. We battled again, if we keep doing that we'll win some games."
Trailing 2-1 going into the third period, the Hawks had two power-play opportunities in the first four minutes of the period and a third in the last five minutes. They failed to register a shot on goal on any of the three.
"The power play could have been better," center Bryan Smolinski said. "That's your bread-and-butter, especially in the last six or seven minutes of the game."
When Hasek wasn't stopping the shots the Hawks did take, they were missing the net on prime scoring opportunities.
That came with the Hawks still down 2-1. Two minutes later, Denis Arkhipov took his second penalty of the night and Mikael Samuelsson rifled a shot over Khabibulin's left shoulder to give the Wings a 3-1 lead.
Tuomo Ruutu cut the lead to 3-2 at 13:50 of the third, jumping on a loose puck in the low slot and beating Hasek. But the Hawks managed just two more shots a 40-footer from Duncan Keith and one from Havlat with two seconds left.
"We had seven or eight point-blank shots in the slot," said winger Jeff Hamilton, who scored his ninth of the season midway through the second period to tie the game 1-1.
"We just have to start a new streak Saturday," Hamilton said.
In his second game as a Hawk and in pursuit of his 500th career goal, Peter Bondra was held scoreless. Havlat was held scoreless for the second straight game and was a minus-1, the second time this season he has recorded a minus. Rene Bourque was in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 12 and played 10:52 with one shot on goal. Wings right wing Tomas Kopecky suffered a broken collarbone when he lost an edge and went headfirst into the boards in the opening minute of the third period. Tony Salmelainen was a healthy scratch for the first time since Savard became coach. Since collecting points in four-straight games, including goals in three straight, Salmelainen has one assist in his last five games. The Red Wings extended their league-leading string of not being shut out on the road to 150 games.