By Steve Keating
DETROIT (Reuters) - Henrik Zetterberg scored a third period hat-trick as the Detroit Red Wings signaled their Central division reign is far from over with a 7-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
Off-season defections and a trip to Sweden to open the season contributed to a sluggish 3-4-2 start for the Red Wings, sparking suggestions their run of eight consecutive Central division titles was about to end.
But, with six wins in their last seven, Detroit have looked more like the team that has marched to the Stanley Cup finals the last two seasons.
"I would have liked us to have been better tonight but saying that we have found a way to win games, we're six-of-seven, we've got ourselves going in the right direction," Detroit coach Mike Babcock told reporters.
"I like winning but don't get me wrong, that's not how we want to go about our business.
"Every night in the league, it's no different than pitching (in baseball) you're not going to have your best stuff all the time. You've to got to find a way to claw and scratch and get wins."
Zetterberg has keyed Detroit's three-game winning streak, picking up nine points over their past four games, including a five point effort against Anaheim on Saturday.
"It was back and forth but we got the last one and it's nice to get the win," said Zetterberg, who was also the last Red Wing to record a hat-trick, against the Columbus Blue Jackets two seasons ago. "After we scored they would score right away.
"We're playing better as a team but it's a little easier to play at home."
Detroit jumped out to a 2-0 lead on powerplay goals from Dan Cleary and Brian Rafalski with 44 seconds to play in the opening period before Corey Perry hammered home the only goal of the second to trim the Red Wings advantage to 2-1.
The third period then became an eight-goal see-saw.
Bobby Ryan pulled the Ducks level on a powerplay, which was negated 90 seconds later when the Wings hit back with a powerplay goal from Pavel Datsyuk.
The rollercoaster ride continued as Joffrey Lupul and Ryan Getzlaf scored for Anaheim, with Zetterberg answering each time, to leave Detroit clinging to a 5-4 lead with less than five minutes to play.
Darren Helm gave the Red Wings some breathing room before Zetterberg completed his hat-trick firing the puck into an empty net with one second left on the clock.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)