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Detroit 5, St. Louis 1
Posted: Tuesday December 31, 2002 11:34 PM
St. Louis Blues
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St. Louis

Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT (Ticker) -- Mission accomplished.

Brendan Shanahan scored twice and Curtis Joseph stopped 29 shots as the Detroit Red Wings extended their season-high unbeaten streak to nine games with a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues.

Earlier this month, first-year coach Dave Lewis challenged the defending Stanley Cup champions to start the new year atop the Western Conference. Detroit did its coach one better. By going 10-1-4 in December, the Red Wings assured they will finish 2002 exactly where they started it - atop the entire NHL.

"They're a great group when you throw a challenge at them," Lewis said. "Everybody contributed when we had some injuries. It was just a short-term goal, something they could focus on. It's nice to be where we are going into the new year."

Shanahan did his scoring in the third period, after Detroit used three deflections to take the lead.

Sean Avery tipped a puck past goaltender Brent Johnson with 6:47 to go in the first period and linemates Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby did the same in the second to help the Red Wings improve to 6-0-3 in their last nine games.

"I think we started slow with all the offseason changes," Detroit defenseman Mathieu Dandenault said. "It took us a while to get back the rhythm."

In his first season with Detroit, Joseph gave up a power-play goal to Keith Tkachuk 4:20 into the opening period but nothing else. He allowed 24 goals while going 8-1-2 in December.

"(Joseph) was the difference in the second period," Lewis said. "He made some saves where I'm sure on their bench their shoulders dropped. They had to be totally discouraged seeing him focused as he was."

Joseph gave the Red Wings an anxious moment during a Blues' power play midway through the second. He skated several feet out of his net to clear a loose puck but was hooked from behind by Doug Weight and lost control. St. Louis, however, was unable to get a shot through to the net.

Johnson, the current NHL Player of the Week, was pulled early in the third period after allowing four goals on 16 shots. The Blues had won four straight and were unbeaten in their previous five games.

"I had an awful game," said Johnson, the grandson of Red Wings Hall of Famer Sid Abel. "It's not going to be like that next time, that's for sure. They got three deflections and one goal that should never have been if any goalie were in the net. I had an off game."

Tkachuk scored on his own deflection, but Avery tied it 13:13 into the first period.

"It was like all of our goals the last four or five games, a shot from the point with a couple of guys going to the net," Avery said. "We're just doing some hard work and getting the puck to the net."

McCarty put the Red Wings ahead at 4:01 of the second. Defenseman Jason Woolley fired a slap shot from the blue line and McCarty tipped it by Johnson for his eighth goal, three more than he scored all of last season.

Maltby made it 3-1 at 14:56, seconds after a Detroit power play expired. Maltby was one of two Red Wings in front of Johnson and got his stick on rookie defenseman Dmitri Bykov's flip from the right point. It was the 10th goal for Maltby, surpassing his total for 2001-02.

Shanahan ended Johnson's night just 1:59 into the third period when his wrister from above the left circle tipped off the goalie's glove and trickled between his pads.

Fred Brathwaite was out of position 4 1/2 minutes later and could not scramble back to stop Shanahan's one-timer from the left faceoff dot.

Referees Dan O'Halloran and Stephen Walkom handed out four fighting majors, three misconducts and two game misconducts with 4:10 to play following brawls involving Reed Low and Bryce Salvador of the Blues and McCarty and Red Wings teammate Maxim Kuznetsov. Low ended up with 49 minutes in penalties.

"We lost our focus," St. Louis right wing Scott Mellanby said. "We were trying to keep our composure, but we lost it at times against this team."