If the Blackhawks were counting on their mastery of the Detroit Red Wings earlier this season to help snap their four-game losing streak Sunday night, they needed a better plan.
The NHL-point-leading Red Wings raced to a 3-0 first-period lead and never looked back to record a 3-1 victory over the Hawks before 21,869 at the United Center.
The defeat in front of the Hawks' largest home crowd of the season and third straight sellout was their fifth straight and dropped their record to 4-1 against Detroit this season. Even the return of star winger Martin Havlat from a groin injury wasn't enough for the Hawks to overcome the NHL's top team.
"It wasn't the way I wanted to come back," said Havlat, who had missed the last six games. "We made some mistakes in the first period, and it was tough to come back after. The second and third we were battling hard, but it wasn't enough."
Opening-period goals by Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson past Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin left little doubt things would be different between the teams this time around.
Zetterberg's goal was his 26th of the season and came just 50 seconds into the game after a missed defensive assignment by Havlat. Cleary scored at the 14-minute-6-second mark and Samuelsson on the power play at 19:51.
"We had a slow start, and a couple of mistakes cost us," Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Even at the start we were playing well; we just gave up some goals and they are such a great team it's tough to come back on them."
The Hawks tried, though, as they came out much stronger in the second period. They controlled play throughout and finally solved Wings goalie Chris Osgood when Seabrook sent a long pass to Tuomo Ruutu, who fired a shot that Rene Bourque tipped into the net with nine seconds remaining in the period. The goal was Bourque's fourth of the season.
"We just had to get back to the simple things and got the puck deep and banged and shot everything we could and kept banging away," Hawks defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said of the Hawks' effort during the final two periods. "Detroit's the No. 1 team and everyone's coming out to beat them all the time and we've taken some points away from them, so I'm sure they were ready to not let us do it anymore."
Byfuglien hit the post with a slap shot at the 16:04 mark of the second and was held without a goal for the eighth straight game.
"I just have no luck right now—it's just not going my way," Byfuglien said. "I've hit a few posts the last few games. I just have to not worry about it and keep shooting and hopefully it will turn around."
Osgood finished with 19 saves and improved his record to 19-2-1. Khabibulin came up with 25 saves as his season mark fell to 15-14-3.
"It's a powerful team over there," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "Lots of veterans who have been together for a long time. We battled and just came up short."
The Hawks hit the halfway point of the season with a 19-19-3 record for 41 points and are last in the Central Division. They will try to snap their skid Tuesday night against the Canadiens in Montreal.
Havlat, who didn't record a shot in 19:08 of ice time, said his groin injury "was OK during the whole game. I have to get back to game shape again."