The Red Wings, coming off a 7-1 loss to Chicago, allowed a 3-0 lead to turn into a one-goal game.
Colorado avoided a shutout with a power-play goal at 14:08 of the third period when Jamie McGinn's backhander from between the circles sailed over a sprawling Howard. Avalanche forward Cody McLeod checked Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith into Howard, who couldn't get off the ice in time to get in a position to stop McGinn's shot.
Colorado pulled goaltender Semyon Varlamov and Matt Duchene scored with the extra skater on the ice to make it 3-2 with 1:18 left, but Howard's glove save with 7 seconds left prevented PA Parenteau from sending it to overtime.
Howard finished with 22 saves for Detroit, which had lost two straight.
The Avs are tied with Florida for the fewest points in the NHL and have lost nine of their last 11 games.
Varlamov, coming off a 1-0 shutout win over Nashville, gave up two goals on four shots in the pivotal second period and finished with 17 saves.
Against the Blackhawks on Sunday, Howard gave up four goals on 14 shots.
Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg missed his second straight game with a groin injury and is day-to-day.
Abdelkader hit a hip-high rebound out of the air and into the net to put the Red Wings up 1-0 with 4:03 left in the first period. It was his seventh point in eight games but his first since his first three-goal, four-point game March 22 against Anaheim.
Cleary scored on a power play from the front of the crease off a behind-the-net pass from Johan Franzen, who also assisted on the first goal.
Brunner's 11th goal was his first since Feb. 24, when he had two goals and four points against Vancouver. The 27-year-old, first-year player is too old to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, but he has been a key player for the rebuilding Red Wings.
NOTES: Detroit D Carlo Colaiacovo, who had been out with an injured left shoulder, played for the first time since Jan. 21 and for just the third time with the team. ...The Avs are 4-11-1 since entering March with a .500 record. ... The Red Wings improved to 12-5-1 in back-to-back games, and 6-2-1 in the second game when they've played on consecutive days.
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