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Howard to start after convincing Wings he's ready

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- Jimmy Howard was under the impression all along that Friday night's game at home against the Nashville Predators was his targeted return date from a nagging groin injury.

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, however, seemed like he wasn't 100 percent on board with that plan earlier this week when he told reporters that if Howard wasn't ready to play by Wednesday night's game in Columbus then he wouldn't be facing Nashville.

Howard didn't play in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jackets, but Babcock decided to give Howard the start against the Predators after consulting with goalie coach Jim Bedard and athletic trainer Piet Van Zant about it.

"I talked to Jimmy B and I talked to Piet and everything seems to be OK," Babcock said after Detroit's morning skate at the United Center. "Jimmy says he's feeling good about himself, so obviously we'd like to get him going. When you look at our last 22 games, he's played in seven of them. We need to get him going. No different than the rest of our team."

Howard said he did know about Babcock's earlier comments regarding his return.

"It was a little discouraging, but at the same time he's the coach and the one who drives the ship here," Howard said. "You know, you've got to respect it."

Howard said he feels good enough to get back in goal and try to regain his sharpness that helped him win more than 30 games and become an NHL All-Star player for the first time in his career. There are only four regular-season games left, but the third-year starter for the Wings thinks that should be enough to get himself ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Everyone wants to feel great going into the playoffs," Howard said. "What's going to be key for me over the next four games is getting back to where I was before the injuries.''

Howard also missed eight games in February with a broken index finger on his right hand prior to the groin issue flaring up. The injuries have interrupted a season in which he was starting almost every time the Red Wings suited up.

Still, Howard said he's not concerned about regaining his top form in such a short amount of time.

"I know what I'm capable of doing out there," he said. "It's just going out there and doing it again. [It's been] on and off for a month a half and not playing a lot, but I've been able to practice a lot. I think that's key for me, because I always practice the way I play. Going out there and working hard translates into games.''

The Red Wings are hoping that's the case, anyway.

"There's a lot of urgency to get playing at the highest possible level going into the playoffs, and he's the same," Babcock said.
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