Detroit and Toronto are Original Six rivals separated by fewer than 250 miles, but the league-leading Red Wings haven’t visited the Maple Leafs in more than four years.
They’ll finally return to Toronto on Saturday, looking to start a new winning streak after having their eight-game run snapped by a rare third-period collapse.
Detroit and Toronto are two of the league’s oldest rivals, having faced off in seven Stanley Cup finals series by the 1963-64 season.
They played as many as six times in a season as recently as 1997-98, but they’ve met just once overall since the 2003-04 season, with the Red Wings winning 5-1 at home on Dec. 9, 2006. Detroit has not played in Toronto since a 5-2 loss on Dec. 6, 2003.
The teams have traveled vastly different paths this season, but each is coming off a surprising result on Thursday.
Detroit (41-11-4) blew a two-goal lead in the final period of a 5-3 loss to Los Angeles, missing out on matching the longest winning streak in franchise history. Toronto (22-25-9), meanwhile, won 4-2 at Montreal despite a 1-7-2 mark in its previous 10 road games.
The Red Wings led the Kings 3-1 at home after two periods and seemed primed to cruise to their ninth straight win, but they allowed four third-period goals to the NHL’s worst team and lost for the first time since Jan. 15.
“I care because of the way we lost,” Detroit’s Kris Draper said. “You know over the course of an 82-game schedule, things are going to happen, but when you’re up 3-1 you have to find a way to bury hockey clubs. We didn’t do that.”
Detroit, which leads the league with a 2.07 team goals-against average, had allowed just six total goals in the previous six games.
The Red Wings have still won five straight on the road, and they have all but locked up the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best team in the regular season.
They have a 15-point lead and two games in hand over their nearest competition, the Dallas Stars, and after the loss to the Kings, they may be a bit more humbled.
“Every once in a while in life you need to be reminded,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We know you can’t just come to the rink and put your jersey on. You’ve got to outwork the opposition.”
Toronto, meanwhile, would need a drastic turnaround simply to qualify for the playoffs, currently sitting in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
But they’ve won two of their last three, with a pair of 4-2 wins against the East’s top two teams sandwiched around an 8-0 loss to the Florida Panthers.
“I think for us the big thing was we were embarrassed at home against Florida and we wanted to make sure that we showed people we’re a better team than that,” Leafs captain Mats Sundin said, “and I thought we came back and showed some character and had a good game tonight.”
Toronto had won four of five at home before the loss to Florida.