Howard's heady effort earns shutout win
The night had been perfect for Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. Then he made his one mistake.
After finishing up his interviews, he tossed his game jersey into the bin in the middle of the room. Then he realized it was not the laundry bin, but the one for trash.
Howard grabbed the jersey out of the trash, quickly atoning for his only error Tuesday night.
Just minutes before, Howard had atoned for what he felt was a bad performance in Game 3 by shutting the door on the Phoenix Coyotes, making 29 saves in a 3-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena, evening the series at two games apiece.
Howard's most impressive save came near the end of the second period when the Wings were killing off a penalty. The shot from the point hit Howard in the head, knocking his mask off. Howard then dove back in the crease to make the save on a rebound attempt by Lee Stempniak — without the helmet.
"I would have taken it off the face if I had to," Howard said. "I mean, I just felt like I really needed to compete for these guys tonight and really put forth a better effort and that's what I tried to do."
Darren Helm, who led the Wings' hit parade with seven of the team's 43 (the Coyotes had just 27 without injured captain Shane Doan), has known Howard since the two played together in the minors. Howard's helmet-less save did not shock him.
"That's just competitiveness that he has," Helm said. "He'll make that stop no matter what the situation is. Obviously, we don't really want him jumping in front of the puck with his helmet off but that's just the guy he is. He wants to win, bucket or no bucket, he's going to try to make that stop."
Said Henrik Zetterberg, who scored the Wings' first and third goals: "He's a fighter. That's what he does. He didn't want to let any pucks behind him and it didn't matter if he had a helmet or not."
Coach Mike Babcock was also not the least bit surprised at Howard's effort, with and without the helmet.
"It's what we expected," Babcock said. "That's what he's done all year long. Good for him. He made a couple saves when they outshot us 5-1."
Regardless of what Babcock and the rest of the Wings expected, it was an important step for Howard, who admitted after Game 3 that the playoff pace was faster than the regular-season pace.
Bouncing back after a bad regular-season game is good, but bouncing back after a bad playoff game is a sign — of both competitiveness and mental toughness.
"It wasn't as easy to forget about Game 3 as I thought it was," Howard said. "I was very upset at myself. I'm a competitive guy and I want to be out there and I want to contribute for the guys so coming into this game. I just told myself to be mentally tough and go out there and take it one shot at a time and five minutes at a time."
You also can't underestimate the influence of veteran goaltender Chris Osgood. Osgood was the first one to tell Howard to forget Game 3, to go home and think about something other than hockey.
Howard knows that there's very little that Osgood hasn't experienced.
"It's a nice little bird to have in your ear, a calming influence for sure," Danny Cleary said. "They've been a great one-two punch for us all season. I think he's leaning on Ozzie in times like this and it's been paying off."
Howard also seems to have learned that you can't savor a playoff win too long — even a shutout — not when the series is tied at 2 and you're headed back to enemy territory.
"It feels great," Howard said. "I'm going to enjoy it here for a couple minutes and then just like I did the other night, forget about it and get ready for Friday night."
And maybe Friday night he won't throw his jersey in the trash either.
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