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Howard helps Red Wings steal home-ice edge

by Shawn Roarke

BOSTON -- It was mayhem at TD Garden late in the third period Friday night during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings.

During the last ice-maintenance timeout in regulation, the sellout crowd was on its feet, waving yellow rally towels furiously, exhorting their Bruins to find a way to solve a stifling Detroit defense in a game without a goal. All of this was happening as "Shipping Up To Boston," the sing-along hit by the Dropkick Murphys, the house band for any major sporting moment in this city, blared at nearly unbearable levels on the PA system.

It was a chaotic, unnerving, intimidating cauldron of noise designed to rattle the opposition.

The only problem was the Red Wings tend to be unflappable, especially when goaltender Jimmy Howard is playing at the top of his game, as he was on this night. Instead of being uncomfortable with the atmosphere, Howard was reveling in it.

"There's nothing like hearing the Dropkick Murphys in Boston," Howard said, smiling as he slouched in his cubicle in the too-small visitors' dressing room at TD Garden. "It was a lot of fun."

It was a lot of fun because the Red Wings took a 1-0 victory in Game 1, a victory that pretty much drops a hand grenade into this best-of-7 series between the winner of the Presidents' Trophy and the Red Wings the second wild-card finisher in the East.

It was fun because star center Pavel Datsyuk joined Howard as a difference-maker, scoring an individualistic goal that will be added to his career highlight reel.

It was fun because Detroit has stolen home-ice advantage from a Boston team that has faced little adversity all season but now faces a critical Game 2 on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).

It was fun because Howard entered the record books by becoming the first Red Wings goalie to record a playoff shutout in Boston since Harry Lumley on March 21, 1946.

But mostly, it was fun, because it is the atmosphere high-end players such as Howard crave as spring approaches and Detroit wasn't sure it would be invited to the party until the final week of the season.

Now, Detroit has put a bit of a scare into a team that registered a League-best 117 points but suddenly is dealing with a health crisis that saw the team missing two key pieces of its six-man rotation on defense as well as a pair of depth forwards.

The Bruins, who have gone to overtime of Game 7 in each of their past three first-round series, know what a hot goalie can do to their dreams of a Stanley Cup -- and Howard was series-stealing hot Friday night.

In fact, his biggest desperation save, his 25th and final stop of the game, was against Milan Lucic with 3:28 remaining in regulation. It set the stage for Datsyuk's heroics on the next shift.

On the play, Jarome Iginla fired a semi-harmless shot from the outside of the right circle, but Lucic got a step on the defense and lunged to tip it, changing the direction of the puck. Howard somehow got the cuff of his glove on the puck as he reached wildly for it. The move was pure instinct, but it was enough to send the puck skittering past the outside of the far post.

"It was a fortunate save. It was pretty lucky," Howard said.

Howard had made his own good fortune all night with his aggressiveness, making several 10-bell stops in the third period, including an arm save on Carl Soderberg, who was parked in the low slot.

Those saves and others made Detroit coach Mike Babcock look prophetic after he spent the morning skate raving about the fact that Howard looked as good as he had in a long time and appeared ready for this series.

"We need our goaltender playing his best and making big saves for us," forward Drew Miller said. "That is what we expect out of him and I think he expects the same thing. It's a big game for him. Our team has expectations that he is going to be dialed in all the time."

The teams meet again in 41 hours. Boston will be desperate to even the series. The building will again be rocking. At some point late in the afternoon, the Dropkick Murphys will on the PA, singing about a sailor losing his leg climbing a topsail and then going to Boston to get his wooden leg. The crowd with erupt, singing, dancing and generally producing a cacophonous racket.

In the visitor's crease, Howard will be standing, collecting his thoughts; perhaps looking at the black, gold and white banners hanging from the rafters, testifying to the rich history of the Bruins. He will be oblivious to it all, instead reveling in the circumstances which delivered him to this stage against the League's best team in one of the League's most-intimidating buildings.

He will, as he says, be having fun.

And his team will draw confidence from it, as they did Friday night.

"That's what we pay these guys to do," Babcock said, talking about his goalie as well as Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. "Both guys are supposed to be high-end goaltenders and they got to give their teams a chance, and he's done it for us in the past in playoff time and we just expect it."

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