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Red Wings goalies struggling down the stretch

Mrazek, Howard haven't found consistency as Detroit seeks 25th straight playoff berth

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Managing Editor LNH.com

MONTREAL - Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill and goaltender Petr Mrazek have a long history together in the American Hockey League, something Blashill referred to when expressing his confidence in giving Mrazek the start over Jimmy Howard against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday.

It might also have been what led Blashill to make a bold announcement on March 6 when he said Mrazek would start a game later that day at the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Petr has earned the No. 1 spot," Blashill said in Chicago, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Mrazek was pulled at 6:19 of that game after allowing two goals on five shots.

Fast forward to Tuesday, Blashill was asked if he still felt the same way about Mrazek as his No. 1 goaltender, and he wasn't willing to go quite that far.

"I think the biggest thing right now is we're trying to win a hockey game tonight," Blashill said prior to the start of the game against Montreal. "So we'll play Petr Mrazek tonight, we played Jimmy Howard last night and we'll make decisions moving forward based on who we feel gives us the best chance to win."

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Mrazek lasted longer than he did in Chicago, but not by much.

Blashill pulled Mrazek at 11:25 of the first period down 2-0 in what ultimately became a 4-3 loss, Detroit's third in its past five games (2-3-0).

Howard replaced Mrazek and watched his teammates come back to take the lead on three power-play goals in the second period, only to have the Canadiens take the lead back with two goals in the third period.

It was the third time in four games Blashill chose to pull his goalie. Howard was pulled at 0:33 of the second period in a 6-2 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 22 and Mrazek was replaced in each of his past two starts, a 7-2 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and Tuesday at Montreal.

The Red Wings have alternated wins and losses for five consecutive games as they chase the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins in an effort to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 25th consecutive season.

"One reason for certain is we've given up too many goals," Blashill said prior to the Canadiens game on his team's inconsistency lately. "You can't give up that many goals and string wins together. We've probably avoided both ends of the streak, to be honest with you. We haven't lost lots of games in a row, we haven't won lots of games in a row. 

"We've kind of been plugging along with a 50/50 type thing, which isn't ultimately going to be good enough."

Goaltending is not the only reason the Red Wings have allowed too many goals, but it would be hard to say it's not the biggest one.

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Mrazek has allowed 16 goals in his past five appearances with a save percentage of .874. Howard has allowed 13 goals in his past five games with a save percentage of .864.

If goaltending was once considered a strength of the Red Wings, it hasn't been of late.

"It was hard, the goals," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said of being down 2-0 early Tuesday. "I thought we played decent in the first couple of shifts, I thought we worked hard. Then they get that first goal, the deflection goal, and [Mrazek] can't do anything about that. Then they got that second one. It's hard to be behind like that early."

The Red Wings are one point behind the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division with each team having five games remaining and tied in points with the Flyers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, but the Flyers have two games in hand.

The Red Wings host the Minnesota Wild on Friday and visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday before two games that could decide their season, at home against the Flyers on April 6 and at the Bruins the following night.

As of now, Blashill is nowhere near as certain as he was on March 6 who his No. 1 goaltender will be when those crucial games arrive.

"I'm just focused on Friday night," Blashill said Tuesday when asked to assess his goaltending situation. "We're going to need a big performance from whoever plays on Friday night."

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