The Chicago Blackhawks probably can't catch the Detroit Red Wings in the standings, but there hasn't been much separating the two teams on the ice.
The rivalry may look a bit different, though, with neither captain in uniform.
These banged-up Original Six foes square off Sunday at Joe Louis Arena for their fifth meeting of the season after the first four were each decided by one goal.
Detroit (43-19-3) has beaten the Blackhawks twice in overtime, but it might be without both of the players who scored the game-winners. While Pavel Datsyuk remains out following arthroscopic knee surgery, Todd Bertuzzi left Friday's 6-0 win over Minnesota with a groin injury and is day-to-day.
The Red Wings also have played the last two contests without longtime leader Nicklas Lidstrom, who is dealing with a deep bone bruise in his ankle. His absence hasn't stopped them from outscoring Columbus and the Wild by a combined 11-2 as they continue to jockey with Vancouver and St. Louis for the Western Conference lead.
Valtteri Filppula keyed Friday's win with two goals - giving him a career-best 21 - and an assist, while Niklas Kronwall had his second straight three-point game.
Henrik Zetterberg also had three points, giving him eight in the last three contests. Filppula has seven in that stretch.
"Two of the better players in the league are missing from our team, so they are big losses," Filppula said of Datsyuk and Lidstrom. "Now we just have to try to keep winning without them."
The Blackhawks (35-24-7) began their current stretch without captain Jonathan Toews with a 2-1 home win over Detroit on Feb. 21, but they followed that with three straight losses.
They've bounced back with consecutive wins over Toronto and Ottawa, with Marian Hossa totaling three goals. His power-play tally provided the winning margin in Friday's 2-1 victory over the Senators, and Patrick Sharp assisted on both goals to snap a five-game point drought.
"This was huge, especially that it was on the road," Hossa said. "We weren't good lately on the road, so we need some wins on the road. So, this is good for the first game of a road trip."
Chicago had dropped 13 of its previous 15 road games before Friday. Its three-game trip gets tougher with visits to the Red Wings and Blues, owners of the two best home records in the league.
For the Blackhawks lately, however, Joe Louis Arena hasn't been the daunting destination that it's been for the rest of the league in 2011-12. Chicago is 5-0-1 in its last six visits, while the Red Wings are 24-1-1 in their last 26 there.
Success in Detroit would likely be tougher without Toews, who has five points and a plus-5 in Chicago's last six road games in the series. He also scored on a penalty shot in a 3-2 home win to open the season series Dec. 30.
The Blackhawks haven't given much information on Toews' injury - reportedly a concussion - but he's likely to miss his seventh straight game Sunday. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is a better bet to return after missing 11 of the last 12, also possibly with a concussion.
It's unclear who will be in net for Chicago. Corey Crawford has started all four games against the Red Wings this season - he's 6-2-2 with a 2.08 goals-against average against them in his career - but he was pulled in favor of Ray Emery after a shaky first period against Toronto. Emery made 25 saves to beat Ottawa.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard stopped all 19 shots he faced Friday, ending a personal three-game skid, but he has a 3.00 GAA while losing five of seven to Chicago.