For the Red Wings to advance in these Stanley Cup playoffs, goalie Jimmy Howard must be better.
Especially since rookie defenseman Danny DeKeyser is out for the year with a broken thumb. Since his arrival late in the regular season, DeKeyser has stabilized the defense, and his loss will be difficult for the Wings to overcome, unless Howard elevates his game.
Leading 4-1 nearly midway through in the third period Thursday, it appeared the Red Wings were in complete control and about to even up their first-round playoff series with the Ducks at a game apiece.
Until Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf muscled his way from behind the Wings net and backhanded a shot that somehow eluded Howard. Once Getzlaf scored, the Wings looked timid and the Ducks re-energized.
As his young team wilted in front of him, Howard needed to morph into a stone wall. This was the kind of moment when playoff legends are born … when your last line defense must make each and every save.
This was Howard’s time.
Unfortunately for the Wings, Anaheim scored another goal — on a shot by Kyle Palmieri that was slightly tipped by Teemu Selanne — to cut the Wings’ lead to one. Eventually the Ducks tied the score on a Bobby Ryan goal with under 3 minutes to play.
An epic collapse — a three-goal lead blown and two questionable goals allowed by Howard — followed by a season-saving, power-play goal by Gustav Nyquist in overtime that gave the Wings a 5-4 victory.
In all fairness, Howard did make some big saves early to keep the Wings from falling behind, but isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?
Unlike past Red Wings playoff teams, this one relys on an abundance of inexperienced rookies at virtually every position, which has led to inconsistent play.
Howard is a seasoned playoff veteran, and his playoff performance this year has been uneven as his 2.99 goals-against average and .897 save percentage indicate.
With the 1-1 series moving back to Detroit, Howard’s goaltending must become the Wings’ main asset.
A goalie is ultimately judged not by the quantity and quality of his saves, but when he makes them. It’s about whether he can make the big stop when everything is on the line.
At this point, Howard’s career playoff accomplishments haven’t been memorable. He must rectified this soon, before he’s categorized as a postseason disappointment.
Which wouldn’t be so good for a goalie — or his team — who just signed a six-year, $31.8 million contract extension.