DETROIT — Sometimes one game, one solid performance, one decisive moment can transform the course of an athlete’s career.
Melodramatic, perhaps, but Jimmy Howard not only needed to win in a must-win situation, he needed to be the difference-maker.
We can harp all we want on the Red Wings rookies coming of age in Detroit’s gripping, 3-2 overtime victory against Anaheim; however, it was Howard who stood the tallest in the end.
Entering Monday’s game, Howard had been anything but spectacular in these playoffs. He had a 1-2 record, 3.33 goals-against average and .885 save percentage, which placed him near the bottom in all goaltending categories.
“I wanted to give the guys a chance to win,” said Howard, who stopped 31 of 33 shots. “They deserved that.
“There were a couple of games there where I wasn’t myself, and I felt tonight I needed to go out there and prove myself all over again to the guys.”
And maybe prove something to himself and his critics.
For his career, Howard has established himself as goalie that could handle the rigors of the regular season. So much so that the Wings inked him to a six-year, $31.8 million contract extension just before the playoffs.
But while a goalie earns his salary during the regular season, he makes his name during the playoffs.
Thus far, saying that Howard’s career playoff numbers have been mediocre might be a little too kind. In 31 games played (before Monday), his record was 14-17, with a 2.70 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and one shutout.
“In playoffs, all it takes is for a goalie to get hot and anything can happen,” Howard said. “It’s upon me to go out there and make saves for the guys.”
Although Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller faced a steady onslaught of Red Wing shots, it was Howard who had to make the tougher stops. The Wings had several defensive lapses that led to a plethora of odd-man rushes and a few breakaways.
You need your goalie to be a star in the playoffs to have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup.
Monday night, Jimmy Howard took a gigantic step toward leading his team to that silver chalice.