VANCOUVER, B.C. - With the Detroit Red Wings looking down-and-out early against the Vancouver Canucks, Jimmy Howard came to the rescue with his first win in almost four years.
Howard came off the bench Tuesday night to backstop the Detroit Red Wings to a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks before a disappointed but entertained sellout crowd of 18,818 at General Motors Place.
Howard's second career victory helped the Red Wings (4-4-2) overcome an early 2-0 deficit to end a three-game losing streak.
"We were working so hard and we were so close," said Howard. "That was the message in the dressing room, just to keep going."
The 25-year-old Ogdensburg, N.Y., native entered the game at 7:05 of the first period, after starter Chris Osgood allowed two goals on four shots, and stopped 20 of 22 shots as Detroit attempted to storm back, only to be denied repeatedly by Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Howard held the fort as the 2008 Stanley Cup finalists trailed 2-1 after the first and a scoreless second before re-discovering their scoring touch with four goals in the third.
It was his first victory since a win on Nov. 28, 2005 over the Los Angeles Kings, but he did not feel any pressure.
"Sometimes when you come in off the bench you really don't have time to think about it much," said Howard. "You just go out there and you play."
His toughest tests came in the second period as the Canucks enjoyed several excellent scoring chances, including dangerous ones by Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, despite being outshout 15-8.
"At the end of the day, we got a bit lucky there at the beginning as far as those two goals ... those were two pretty bad goals," said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. "I thought in the second period we had plenty of opportunities even though they outshot us. We had some Grade A chances to make it 3-1 and we weren't able to do it."
Jason Williams' power-play goal capped a frenetic third period and put the Wings ahead for good at 14:57 of the third period. Standing by the side of the net, Williams took Valterri Filppula's pass across the crease and easily beat Luongo.
"We just felt we could still battle back," said Williams. "There was still plenty of game left. I think it was good for our team to get behind like that and battle back. After the things that we've been going through the last little bit here, this shows the character we have. It was just a building thing for our team."
Pavel Datsyuk led Detroit with his first two goals of the season while Tomas Holmstrom and Niklas Kronwall also scored in the victory.
"To see Pav score two goals, it was good to get him going and get him rolling," said Williams. "He's just such a talented player, you can't keep him off the scoresheet that long. For him to chip in the two goals, it was really nice to see."
Henrik Sedin led Vancouver (6-6-0) with two goals and an assist while Christian Ehrhoff and Mathieu Schneider, with his first as a Canuck, added singles. Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa recorded three helpers as the Canucks saw their win streak end at three games.
The Canucks also lost forward Ryan Johnson, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher and brought to a hospital after crashing heavily into the end boards in the second period.
"It was a tough start for us, but I didn't think we played bad," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "I think we played fine. Just, the puck went in."
Sedin opened the scoring only 30 seconds into the first period on Vancouver's first official shot of the game. Bieksa's partially-blocked point shot grazed the post and caromed hard off the end boards. Mikael Samuelsson got a piece of the puck and directed it to Sedin, who beat a kneeling Osgood.
Osgood's catching glove spelled his doom.
The Detroit netminder got a piece of an Ehrhoff shot with his trapper, then spent half a minute trying to re-adjust it as play continued in the Vancouver end. He was still fiddling with it as Ehrhoff beat him on the glove side from a sharp angle at 7:05.
Babcock immediately pulled Osgood, who allowed two goals on four shots, in favour of Howard.
With just five minutes left in the opening period, Zetterberg and Datsyuk combined to set up Holmstrom after Vancouver defenceman Shane O'Brien lost his stick, dropped to his knees and gloved the puck right to Datsyuk in front of Luongo. He quickly dished it off to Zetterberg, who then deked the Canucks goalie and fed Holmstrom in front of the open net.
Babcock was more than a little relieved to see Datsyuk and Zetterberg start to click together again.
"We're not going anywhere if they've played nine games and they've got one goal between 'em," said Babcock. "It just doesn't work like that. Those guys know that, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves to generate offence. You can't keep good players down. Goal scorers, once they score, it's like they're on a track and they get rollin. I'm sure we're going to reap the benefits of this.' "
Exactly one minute after Schneider briefly gave the Canucks a 3-2 lead just over five minutes into the third, Datsyuk ended a season-opening seven-game goalless drought, firing a wrist shot from the slot between Luongo's legs. Less than four minutes later, Datsyuk's wrist shot from the wing hit Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler and bounced past Luongo to give the Wings their first lead of the game 4-3.
But with the Canucks enjoying a two-man advantage, Sedin evened the score on a wrist shot from the side of the net at 12:03, setting the stage for the dramatic finish, which Babcock hoped would be a sign of better things to come for his club.
"We're not playing minor hockey anymore," said Babcock. "We're in the winning business, and in Detroit, we expect to win . . . We're 10 games into the 20-game mark, and things just seem to shuffle upward from that point on. So if you're not in the hunt, you're in trouble - and we need to climb our way back in the hunt."
Notes: Canucks winger Alex Burrows played his 300th NHL regular-season game. ... Detroit winger Darren Helm was a healthy scratch . . . Former Canuck Todd Bertuzzi drew the second assist on the winning goal . . . Vancouver lost Johnson early in the second period as he chipped the puck into the Detroit zone, clipped Kirk Maltby's skate, caught part of Lidstrom's hip and then crashed heavily into the boards. Canucks doctors and trainers rushed onto the ice while paramedics immediately brought out a stretcher and a spinal board.