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If the first half of the NHL season has proven anything, it's that the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators are the class of their respective conferences. Whether those teams have what it takes to meet in the Stanley Cup finals remains to be seen.
The Red Wings look to rebound from a rare loss and extend a six-game road winning streak Saturday night when they meet the Eastern Conference-leading Senators in a matchup of the league's top teams.
Detroit (33-8-4) has been in a class by itself in the season's first three-plus months, leading the league in points (70) and goals scored (157) while ranking second in goals allowed (96). With a 10-point lead over the Senators, the Red Wings appear on their way to a third Presidents' Trophy in four seasons.
Despite their remarkable regular-season success, the Red Wings haven't reached the Stanley Cup finals since beating Carolina in 2001-02.
Ottawa (28-10-4), seven points ahead of New Jersey in the race for the East's top seed, is second in the NHL in points (60) and goals scored (151) while ranking among the league leaders in goals allowed (118).
Since a surprising seven-game losing streak from Nov. 21-Dec 4, Ottawa has gone 12-3-1.
The Senators finally broke through in the playoffs last season after years as an elite team, reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time before losing to Anaheim in five games.
A matchup with the Red Wings should provide the Senators with their toughest challenge of the season to this point.
"It's going to be a big game," Ottawa's Jason Spezza said following Thursday's 3-2 shootout win over Buffalo. "I haven't had much time to think about it since this one just ended, but I'm sure (Friday) the excitement will build up. They've got a good hockey club and we know we can't make as many mistakes as we made tonight, but I'm sure we'll be sharper."
Part of Detroit's overall success is because of its excellent road play. Only San Jose and Ottawa have better road records than the Red Wings (15-5-2), who have outscored opponents 23-6 in their last six games away from home.
A wild 6-5 shootout loss to Minnesota on Thursday ended Detroit's four-game overall win streak.
"Every once in a while you need a reminder in life that you've got to work hard and you've got to work for 60 minutes," coach Mike Babcock said.
Dan Cleary had a goal and two assists for the Red Wings, who have only two regulation losses since Nov. 22 (18-2-3).
All-Star Chris Osgood had his worst game of the season, yielding five goals on 28 shots.
"Things had been going so well for me and the team," Osgood said. "I've had some lucky breaks and so have we, but this was the first time all year that the puck was ricocheting around and going in our net."
Babcock has been alternating his goalies most of this season, meaning Dominik Hasek is in line to start against his former team.
Hasek, who spent the 2005-06 season with Ottawa, has shutouts in each of his last two starts. He is 9-1-1 with three shutouts and a 1.35 goals-against average in his past 11 games.
The Senators squandered a two-goal lead in the third period but recovered for their third straight win Thursday.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson scored his team-leading 26th goal Thursday, giving him six goals and four assists during an eight-game point streak. Linemate Dany Heatley had his six-game streak snapped.
Ottawa, which has won six of eight, will face Detroit at home for the first time since a 3-2 overtime loss on Oct. 11, 2003.
The Red Wings are 6-2-0 in their last eight meetings with the Senators.