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Can he be first to 50 wins?

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

For the second straight year, Jimmy Howard is the first NHL goalie to 30 wins, doing so Jan. 23. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
For the second straight season, he’s the first NHL goalie to reach 30 wins. But this season it’s even more remarkable considering that the Red Wings began the year with an uncharacteristic 5-5-1 record.

Now, Jimmy Howard (30-10-1) is on a pace to become the first-ever to win 50 games, which would top the current NHL mark set by New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur (48) in 2006-07.

However, wins between now and early April will be far more critical for the Wings in this new world Western Conference than in seasons past.

“I’m just calm and patient out there and when you have a good team in front of you that makes my job a lot easier,” said Howard, who boasts a 1.96 goals-against average with five shutouts this season. “We’re paying attention to details in our own zone. Guys are sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots. … As a goalie, when you see that it fires you up that much more.”

Regardless of the outcome tonight in Montreal, the Wings will enter All-Star weekend with the league’s best record, which currently stands at 33-15-1 for 67 points. But the Wings are also in the league’s toughest division with St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville all within three-points of catching Detroit in the Central standings.

With the Western race likely to go to the wire, the Wings need Howard to continue to shine, especially against his divisional goaltending contemporaries, like, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and the two-headed monsters in St. Louis (Brian Elliott/Jaroslav Halak) and Chicago (Corey Crawford/Ray Emery).

Sixty percent of the season is in the rearview mirror, but with 33 games remaining on the schedule, the Wings still have 10 divisional contests left to play, including three each against Nashville, Chicago and Columbus.

The Wings are 9-5-0 against their Central rivals with eight games decided by one goal, so it’s conceivable that goaltending will be a crucial element down the stretch.

But Howard’s teammates have plenty of confidence in the third-year starter, who along with center Pavel Datsyuk, will represent the Wings at the All-Star game this weekend in Ottawa.

“He’s so comfortable in net and calm. It helps us to play better,” center Henrik Zetterberg said. “We know he will be there for us. He will win games for us even if we're not playing at our top level we know we have a chance at winning.”

Howard has kept the Wings in games all season, but lately, with three of the last five home games going to overtime or shoot-outs, he’s been a big influence. And during the club’s 17-game home winning streak, he’s been miraculous while posting a 1.41 GAA with a .945 save percentage and four shutouts.

“Over a period of time it is because he's more consistent,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “But he played good right out the get-go, too. He's always had the ability; the ability to do it every night is a different thing. Now he's very confident, soft, when the puck hits him it sticks to him. He makes saves you don't even think are saves anymore. You don't think about it as much. He's become a good goaltender in the league. Now he's got to do it for 15 years, it's the measure.”

Howard knows that he must also do it on the road, where he is 10-8-2 with a 2.42 GAA this season.

“We have to find a way to play on the road like we do at home,” said Howard, who is 20-2-1 with a 1.59 GAA at home. “At The Joe, nothing seems to rattle us. We keep our composure. Even when we get a little bit lost out there we come right back to the game plan and find ways to win.”

If Howard stays consistent at home, and ups his game on the road, he’ll definitely be a Vezina Trophy finalist while joining Terry Sawchuk, Roger Crozier and Dominik Hasek as the only Wings’ goalies to post 40-plus win seasons.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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