DETROIT – They were pucks that he's stopped countless times before and pucks that he'll stop countless times again, but on Tuesday night they were pucks that found the back of the net against Jimmy Howard.
Two of the four goals the Detroit rookie goalie allowed at Joe Louis Arena in a gut-wrenching 4-3 overtime loss to San Jose gave the Sharks a boost early and new life late in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Sharks are now up 3-0 in the series, and Howard could only shake his head as he talked about his night -- which included a first-period goal scored by Devin Setoguchi just four seconds before the horn sounded and a third-period goal by rookie Logan Couture from a bad angle just above the goal line.
Both goals beat Howard through the legs. Afterward, he was upset, yet defiant – especially about the latter one, which tied the game 3-3 with 6:43 left to play in regulation.
"I would have done the same thing over again,"said Howard, a Calder Trophy finalist. "I always go down on one knee there. It just happened to find the goal."
In all, Howard stopped 29 of the 33 shots he faced and made several spectacular saves. He also made key stops during the rest of regulation to help send the game into overtime, where he had no chance on a tap-in by Patrick Marleau at 7:07 after a great pass from Joe Thornton. That rush began with a shot by Detroit's Jason Williams that missed everything, rimmed around the boards and went right to Thornton for a 2-on-1 break.
There wasn't much Howard could do about that one or the one scored by Thornton in the third to make it 3-2 -- it deflected off the stick of Wings center Pavel Datsyuk. The other two goals are the ones Howard would like to have back.
"It definitely is disappointing," he said. "I let this one slip away, but it's not over."
Not yet, but Detroit is in a precarious spot having to win four straight games against the Western Conference's top-seeded team. If they have any shot of doing it, Howard will need to rebound. At the very least he can use this experience to become a dependable, playoff-tested stopper in the years ahead.
"Any experience you can get in the playoffs, whether it's winning or losing or playing in overtime is going to help make you a better player,"captain Niklas Lidstrom said. "This experience is going to help him. Just the overall experience of playing in the playoffs is going to help him."
Even on nights like this, when the pain cuts deep and sitting in front of TV cameras and microphones must feel like the entire world is judging you?
"Sometimes it hurts,"Lidstrom said. "Sometimes you're successful and things go your way. It's just something you have to battle through."