DETROIT — For all those people who thought that young goaltender Petr Mrazek’s time was now, Jimmy Howard proved Sunday that his time is far from over.
The Red Wings were a tired team, playing its third game in four days.
After taking a 2-1 lead over the Kings in the first period on Pavel Datsyuk’s power-play goal and Damien Brunner’s sixth goal in 12 games, the Wings looked absolutely spent in the second.
The Kings outshot the Wings, 23-9, yet Howard was there every single time.
Whether it was Dustin Brown in front, Rob Scuderi from the point, Slava Voynov from the point, Jeff Carter on the power play, Dwight King in front or Kyle Clifford on a rebound, Howard stood tall.
“If you watched that game, I think you’d say Howie stole that one for us, no doubt about that,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Especially in the second period, when he came up with huge save after huge save, just robbed them. He gave us a chance to win and we found a way.”
The Kings certainly were impressed.
“If you look at their blue paint, we were there just about every shift,” Brown said. “We had some grade A scoring chances. Howard was great.”
Howard didn’t have a chance when the Kings pulled their goaltender, Jonathan Quick, in the last minute of the third and defenseman Alec Martinez scored on a rebound shot with 52.8 seconds left.
But the hockey gods rewarded Howard for his perseverance when Jonathan Ericsson’s shot from the right point trickled past Quick and into the net with 4.5 seconds remaining.
The Wings, their fans and one of the linesmen all rejoiced.
“The funny thing is, one of the linesmen was thanking me after I scored,” Ericsson said. “He said, ‘Thank you so much. I really have to go pee. I wouldn’t last the overtime.'”
Howard finished with 45 saves, his most since recording 47 against the New York Rangers on Feb. 7, 2011. His career high is 52 saves against the Kings on Jan. 7, 2010.
“I think, to be honest, the days off last week really were key,” Howard said after changing into some dry clothes. “I was able to have that extra push. Not practicing Wednesday and getting the night off against St. Louis, I felt really rested out there.”
Howard looked like the only rested player for the Wings, which is kind of what coach Mike Babcock expected.
“We knew at some point that the energy wasn’t going to be as good, and they took over, forechecked us,” Babcock said. “We turned over pucks, and we weren’t very good in the second period.
“Howie made some great saves, one after the other actually. This was a tough three games in four nights. I thought the guys did good. Howie gave us an opportunity to hang in there, and we got it done.”
Mrazek, who turns 20 this Thursday, was called up to spell Howard, who had started all of the Wings’ games before this past Thursday’s contest in St. Louis.
Jonas Gustavsson has been battling a groin injury since the beginning of the season, and Joey MacDonald, who was placed on waivers Sunday and will be sent to Grand Rapids if he clears, has been out since last spring with a back injury.
Mrazek was completely unfazed by making his NHL debut in St. Louis, stopping 26 of 27 shots he faced and becoming the second youngest Wings goaltender to win in his debut.
That one game had some clamoring to see more of the youngster in net.
Howard’s performance Sunday should dispel some of that.
“I love being out there and competing for the guys,” Howard said. “I always joke around with the trainers about being bored when I’m not playing. I just love to compete.”
Because the Wings and Howard had some poor games in the early going, Howard is 24th in both goals-against average at 2.78 and 23rd in save percentage at .906.
Howard doesn’t care because the Wings have won three in a row and after Sunday’s win were fifth in the Western Conference, with 15 points in 12 games.
“It’s huge,” Howard said. “Every single night points are at a premium. You have to get points to be able to stay in the mix and stay in the playoff hunt.
“Every single night we’re out there, that’s all we’re looking for, is to get two points, and we found a way (Sunday).”