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RED WINGS, STARS TIE ONE ON

With the NHL season approaching the midway point, the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars still can't seem to settle who is No. 1.

The Red Wings and Stars met Monday night in a heralded battle of the league's top two teams -- and wound up with a 2-2 tie.

"We're not disappointed," Detroit coach Scotty Bowman said. "It's not a bad tie because we were down in the game and we were coming off an 8-1 win (at Toronto) and playing a much better team."

Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock was also pleased with his team's performance. He questioned his players' attitude after two previous losses to the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"The tie is satisfying," Hitchcock said. "Regardless of the point, I was happy with the way we played against them this time."

The Stars and Red Wings remained tied atop the Central Division, each with an NHL-best 56 points. The tie also extended season-best unbeaten streaks for both clubs, as Detroit hasn't lost in its last seven and Dallas in its last six. On the other hand, Detroit had a five-game winning streak snapped.

Tomas Holmstrom gave Detroit a 2-1 lead with 6:28 remaining in the third period when he jammed home the rebound of a shot by Martin Dandenault. But Sergei Zubov tied it for Dallas just 1:06 later when he slipped a shot between Chris Osgood's glove and the goal post.

Both goalies were strong as Osgood made 30 saves and Dallas' Ed Belfour, an old Detroit nemesis, had 20.

"Both teams are doing well and are really competitive," Belfour said. "I think we both want to see how we measure up, and tonight was a good test."

Thibault ties his former idol

DENVER -- Jocelyn Thibault wasn't intimidated by his former team and his former idol.

The 22-year-old Montreal Canadiens goalie grew up watching Patrick Roy, the three-time Vezina Trophy winner and the man he was traded for.

Thibault showed his improvement, stopping 25 shots as the Canadiens tied Roy and the Colorado Avalanche, 1-1.

"As a teen-ager I really looked up to him," Thibault said. "He was my idol. A lot of the things I saw him doing, I'm doing now because I saw him do that.

Thibault came to Montreal on Dec. 6, 1995, along with Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko for Roy and Mike Keane.

"You are naturally ready when you play against your old team and against Patrick," Thibault said. "You are nervous, but you don't have to pump yourself."

Roy stopped 32 shots as the Avalanche tied the New York Rangers with their league-high 12th tie of the season. Both teams are in position to break the record of 24 in season, held by the 1969-70 Philadelphia Flyers.

Mark Recchi, who played in his league-leading 502nd consecutive game, scored his 18th goal of the season for Montreal. Sandis Ozolinsh scored for the Avalanche on a power play.

Francis gets hat trick

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Ron Francis earned a new nickname for his first hat trick in more than two years.

"Hey, Dennis," linemate Jaromir Jagr shouted from across the locker room after their 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders.

Dennis?

"Dennis Rodman. Because of all the rebounds," Francis said.

Makes sense, considering all three of his goals were on rebounds, a specialty that earns Rodman millions with the NBA's Chicago Bulls.

"Four and a half feet," was Francis' estimate of the amount of ground he had to cover for his first multiple-goal game of the season.

"But it was a good 4 1/2 feet," Francis said.

The only negative note for the Penguins was a pulled thigh muscle that forced goalie Tom Barrasso out after one period. The seriousness of the injury was not known.

During the first intermission, the Penguins contacted the NHL office with the help of supervisor John D'Amico and got permission to activate Ken Wregget from injured reserve and dress him. It didn't come to that, though; Peter Skudra finished.

Skudra stopped all 12 shots he faced as the Penguins dominated the last two periods.

Around the rinks

Adam Oates had a goal and an assist during a four-goal first period as the Capitals beat the Blues, 4-2. Dale Hunter, Andrew Brunette and Richard Zednick also scored for the Capitals. . . . Backup goalie Derek Wilkinson stopped 29 shots and Dino Ciccarelli scored a rare Tampa Bay power-play goal as the Lightning beat the Sharks, 2-1. Wilkinson, subbing for injured starter Daren Puppa, won for the first time (1-5-1) in his initial appearance this season and 10th of his career. Puppa injured his back Saturday when he twisted it while making a save against Boston, and the team said he will be sidelined until the weekend with back spasms. . . . Bob Corkum and Keith Tkachuk each scored twice to lead the Coyotes to a 5-3 victory over the Flames. . . . Jozef Stumpel and Craig Johnson each had a goal and two assists as the Kings extended the Canucks' winless streak to five games with a 5-2 decision. Pavel Bure scored twice for the Canucks, who were missing defenseman Dana Murzyn with an injured right knee and Alexander Mogilny for the sixth straight game because of a groin injury. Glen Murray, Russ Courtnall and Luc Robitaille also scored for the Kings and Stephane Fiset made 34 saves.