NASHVILLE – Shootouts can mess with the heads of even the NHL's best goalies. After losing two straight, Jimmy Howard proved no exception Sunday.
In all, the Detroit Red Wings had lost three games in a row, causing them to fall out of the top eight in the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Western Conference with only seven games remaining in the season entering their match with the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
To solve his woes, Howard sought the counsel of his goaltending coach Jim Bedard and long-time Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who now works in the team's front office, helping in the development of the organization's young netminders.
The result was a 22-save shutout in Detroit's 3-0 victory in which Howard's best and most important save came on a shorthanded breakaway that helped to preserve a one-goal lead in the second period. The shutout was Howard's third of the season, tying him for sixth in the League, and second against Nashville. His most recent shutout came against the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on March 7.
"To be honest, breakaways and shootouts and all that stuff hasn't been really fun for me this year," said Howard, who is 1-4 in the shootout with a .563 save percentage in that segment, ranking him 31st among 48 goalies in the League this season. "And talking with Jim Bedard and (Osgood) the other night, it's just about doing the same things that I used to but, staying a little bit more patient. It seems to be paying off a little bit."
The win moved Detroit, which has made 21 straight postseason appearances, back into eighth place in the West with 47 points, two more than the Dallas Stars. Dallas holds two games in hand on Detroit, which has six games remaining.
That counseling from Bedard and Osgood paid off when Howard stopped Matt Halischuk on a shorthanded breakaway with 3:33 left in the second period to keep Detroit up 1-0. Halischuk tried a wrist shot between Howard's legs, but Howard closed off the hole.
One of the best saves that Howard made was one he did not have to make. Nashville's Bobby Butler was awarded a penalty shot when Jakub Kindl tripped him from behind. But the puck slipped off Butler's stick as he approached the goal on his attempt and he never got off a shot.
"He lost control," Howard said of the penalty shot. "As the game goes on, the ice here isn't the best -- you know, around the League -- so it was just a tough one for him."
Howard "was real good," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "With the exception of the penalty shot, I thought we did good things."
Babcock said he was thinking of different ways to interpret the final stretch run. He said if the Red Wings could break the final nine games into three-game segments and earn four of a possible six points in each, he thinks they will qualify for the playoffs. With the win, the Red Wings earned four points in the first three-game segment. They continue their four-game road trip on Wednesday against the Calgary Flames before facing the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
The Red Wings' 47 points tie them with the seventh-place Minnesota Wild, who have a game in hand on Detroit, and puts the Red Wings one point behind the sixth-place St. Louis Blues, who hold two games in hand on Detroit.
"This morning we were out of the playoffs, I think we're in it right now and I think Minny's right there with us and St. Louis," Babcock said. "There's lots of us in that mud puddle trying to find a way to swim."
For Nashville, the offensive woes continued. Since accommodating a trade request from long-time right wing Martin Erat, their co-leader in points at the time, the Predators have scored six goals in six games and been shut out three times. Nashville has lost six straight in regulation and is 1-7-2 in its past 10. The loss spoiled the NHL debut of 18-year-old Nashville forward Filip Forsberg, the 11th pick at the 2012 NHL Draft, whom the Predators received from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Erat.
Pekka Rinne was outstanding in goal with 29 saves. In three losses – on April 6, on April 9 and on Sunday -- he has allowed a total of four goals.
Along with Forsberg, the Predators are playing five other rookies because of a slew of injuries.
"The guys we're looking at, we're going to have to make decisions on," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "They're showing what they can and cannot do. That's the positive. It's not a great answer for the fans from that standpoint, but it's reality. We can't do anything about all the veterans and all our top players, especially up front, that are hurt. We don't have any excuses for it. We just have to try to play through it and get a win. We have to spoil somebody's party here."
Forsberg played 18:37 and was minus-2 (one was for an empty-net goal), but showed a lively shot with two on goal.
"Of course it is a big difference from where I play and of course the players have much more skill than I am used to, but yeah, it was a high tempo out there," Forsberg said.
Detroit took control in the second period, outshooting Nashville 16-4 and picking up the game's first goal. On numerous occasions, Detroit seemed to purposely shoot the puck wide, hoping for the carom off the backboards. That play worked to perfection at 6:23 of the second period.
Danny DeKeyser shot the puck from the point, but it eluded Rinne's glove wide to the left. The puck bounced out the opposite side and Henrik Zetterberg beat a Predators defender to tap it into an open net. The assist was the first point of DeKeyser's career.
Coming off a bad loss on Friday, Nashville took it to the Red Wings in the first period. The Predators earned two power plays to none for Detroit in the first 20 minutes and outshot the Red Wings 13-9.
Howard came up big. His best save of that period came on the second of those power plays when Nashville defenseman Roman Josi skated in from the point and labeled a slap shot for the far corner, but Howard flashed his glove to stop it with 4:50 left in the period.
Johan Franzen made it 2-0 with 2:59 left in regulation with a backhander high to the glove side after Detroit won a faceoff in Nashville's zone. Justin Abdelkader added an empty-net goal with 1:19 left.