Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg, of Sweden, is congratulated by teammates after his second goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Detroit, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
DETROIT - Henrik Zetterberg had his best game since the Detroit Red Wings came off consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock isn't ready to say Zetterberg can make the rebuilding team a championship contender just yet, but he said it's too early to count out the Red Wings because of Zetterberg and fellow star Pavel Datsyuk.
Zetterberg matched a career high with five points—including three goals. He then set up Datsyuk's tiebreaking goal after David Backes was called for a match penalty at 9:38 of third period to help Detroit beat the St. Louis Blues 5-3 on Friday night.
"I hear a lot about the things we don't have, but I don't know how many teams have Pav and Z," Babcock said. "And, that's a pretty good starting point for me.
"We're not going away here."
Detroit entered the season with predictions of its streak of 21 straight postseasons being in peril. Seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and net-front specialist Tomas Holmstrom both retired, and key players Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler from last season are now playing elsewhere.
The Red Wings, though, showed they could skate and score with the talented Blues. St. Louis, which had won four straight, beat Detroit 6-0 in the opener.
"They just beat us like a rented mule," Babcock said, referring to the earlier meeting in St. Louis. "This was a good opportunity for us to respond."
Zetterberg and Datsyuk—the team's top forwards when it was a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions in 2009—led the way in a game that gave Detroit a measure of redemption against a rising power in the Central Division.
"It was a big win for us," Babcock said. "I believe it's going to give us a confidence boost, and we're going to keep getting better."
Zetterberg missed practice on Thursday—a day after the team didn't skate—because he wasn't feeling well.
"Sometimes it's nice to have two days off, especially with a schedule like this," he said. "I got a little extra rest, so I can't complain."
Zetterberg scored three goals for the fifth time in his career, and the first since Nov. 14, 2009, when he also had two assists to set a career high with five points against the Anaheim Ducks.
The captain scored with power, finesse and grit against the Blues.
Zetterberg's first goal was a one-timer on a power play, his second was a breakaway backhander, and the third showed just how much he wanted to win the game.
While Detroit was killing a power play in the final minutes, Zetterberg raced Blues centre T.J. Oshie to a loose puck that was going toward the St. Louis net, took a hit from Oshie, and sprawled out to hack the puck into the net to seal the victory.
St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak left the game shortly after Zetterberg's second goal midway through the first period because Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he had a lower-body injury. Halak made nine saves before being replaced by Brian Elliott, who stopped 17 shots.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard made 23 saves for his 114th victory, tying Dominik Hasek for seventh place on the team's career list.
The Red Wings scored only one goal on six power plays over the first two periods, but they took advantage when Backes' penalty gave them an extra skater for 5 minutes midway through the third period.
Backes was ejected for illegal contact to the head when he used his shoulder to hit Detroit defenceman Kent Huskins high.
"I'm not going to comment on that," Hitchcock said. "It was a big turning point and it turned out being the turning point of the game."
Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored St. Louis' first goal, refused to say the call was the reason the Blues lost.
"There are breaks in the game, and some of them don't go your way," he said. "We've got to do a better job of killing that penalty."
Zetterberg scored at 6:12 and 8:07 of the first period to put Detroit ahead 2-0. The Blues tied it 5 minutes later on goals by Shattenkirk and Matt D'Agostini. Patrik Berglund put the Blues ahead for the first time early in the second period, but they couldn't hold onto the lead.
Zetterberg set up Jonathan Ericsson's tying goal early in the third period and patiently kept the puck before threading a pass through a few Blues on a cross-ice pass to set up Datsyuk's go-ahead goal.
"We have really good starts but after, we relaxed, and they scored some more goals," Datsyuk said. "But Hank had everything under control, so it's OK."
NOTES: Detroit D Ian White, out since Jan. 25 because of a leg laceration, hopes to play Tuesday at home against Calgary. ... St. Louis rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, a 21-year-old forward, extended his point streak to five games. ... Zetterberg, who has a six-game point streak, had two goals and five assists in his previous five games.
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