Detroit Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk, top, reaches back for a loose puck as Colorado Avalanche right winger Milan Hejduk comes in to cover in the first period. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/David Zalubowski)
DENVER - The usually tight and testy Colorado-Detroit matchup has never been this one-sided, on the scoreboard or in the trainer's room.
Pavel Datsyuk scored twice and Johan Franzen picked up his sixth goal of the series, putting the Red Wings on the cusp of the Western Conference finals with a 4-3 victory Tuesday night over the ailing Avalanche, who lost another star skater when leading scorer Paul Stastny went down with a knee injury in the first period.
"There were no defencemen on either goal," Datsyuk said. "All I had to worry about was the goalie."
Colorado's concerns are plenty.
The Red Wings can wrap up the series with a win in Game 4 on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center. None of the five previous playoff series between the rivals ended in a sweep.
The Avs have lost all seven times they played Detroit this season, including three shutouts in the regular season. To advance to the conference finals, they'll have to become the first team in 33 years to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.
And they sure don't look like a team ready to make a historic run to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders as the only NHL teams ever to win a series after losing the first three games.
"Well, the Red Sox came back on the Yankees," Colorado captain Joe Sakic said, recalling Boston's recovery from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS. "It's happened, we just have to go in and worry about Game 4."
The Avs put up a fair fight this time despite losing Stastny.
"Everybody's got bumps and bruises and injuries are going to happen," said Colorado forward Andrew Brunette, who scored twice. "It happened all year, and it happened to other teams, too. It's something you have to battle through. You can't sit there and say, 'Oh, so-and-so's out.' It's something you battle through."
Although centre Peter Forsberg and defenceman Scott Hannan returned to Colorado's lineup, the banged-up Avs were without forward Ryan Smyth (foot) even before losing Stastny, their leading scorer.
Colorado is without forward Wojtek Wolski (shoulder) for the series. Forsberg (groin) missed both games in Detroit and Hannan missed Game 2 with a lower-body injury, when Smyth got hurt blocking a shot.
It wasn't immediately apparent how Stastny got hurt. He was examined in the locker room during the first intermission and the team announced he was through for the night.
The biggest health concern for the Red Wings is Mikael Samuelsson's face, which was smacked by Forsberg's stick in the second period.
The costly penalty came in the second period after Brunette deflected John-Michael Liles' shot from the high slot past goaltender Chris Osgood on Colorado's first power play to cut Detroit's lead to 3-2.
Forsberg was assessed a 4-minute penalty for high-sticking Samuelsson, who lost a tooth, and Datsyuk assisted Henrik Zetterberg for the score on the power play to make it 4-2.
"I didn't realize I hit him," Forsberg said. "But I guess he was bleeding so I guess I did hit him, so I have nothing to say. If he's bleeding, it's four minutes. I didn't think I hit him that hard."
Forsberg added that he felt Samuelsson sold the call.
"Definitely. He's laying there on the ice and I barely touched him," Forsberg said.
Sakic fed Brunette for his second goal five minutes into the third period, pulling Colorado to 4-3 and surpassing Steve Yzerman for eighth place on the career list with his 186th playoff point.
But Osgood, who made 30 saves, made sure the lead held up,
"Our power play was good and we played great 5-on-5," Osgood said. "We put pucks on the net and created goals. We took too many penalties to let them back in the game and gave them some momentum at the end. But we held on at the end.
"It was good to have that cushion, to have our guys get us four goals after two periods."
Recovered from the flu, Jose Theodore was back in goal for Colorado and stopped 31 shots. He was pulled in each of the team's two losses in Detroit for poor performances that were blamed on his illness. Theodore gave up two goals 58 seconds apart in the first period as Detroit erased a 1-0 deficit.
Datsyuk skated around Adam Foote and put the puck past Theodore's stick on the power play. Then, Franzen put the Red Wings ahead for good when he scored his league-leading eighth goal of the playoffs off a sweet cross-ice pass from Brett Lebda in front of the crease.
"My shots are finding the back of the net," Franzen said. "It's going good right now, but you never know when that will stop."
The Avs are just wondering when all these injuries will cease.
"We've definitely had our share," Sakic said. "But this organization has never made any excuses with injuries, and we're not going to start now. The guys in the lineup, we have to find a way to win the next game."
Notes: After outscoring the Avs 11-2 in the regular season, Detroit has outscored Colorado 13-7 in the playoffs. ... Detroit D Nicklas Lidstrom appeared in his 201st playoff game, breaking a tie with Jari Kurri for the most post-season games by a European-born player. He notched his 100th career assist.