– It took a Herculean effort to out-work goalie Jimmy Howard
Saturday night, which is exactly what Ryan Miller did.
Miller, the older brother of Detroit forward Drew Miller, pitched a near-perfect 29 save performance, helping the Vancouver Canucks defeat the Red Wings, 4-1, at Rogers Arena.
“Millsie definitely played a great game for them, but I thought we did a good job,” said Howard, who stopped 20 shots.
Miller was 3 ½ minutes away from his first-ever shutout victory in 15 career games against the Red Wings, but his bubble was burst when Tomas Tatar scored his team-leading 16th goal of the season at 16:30 of the third period.
The Canucks also benefited from two power-play goals by Alexander Edler in the second period and Radim Vrbata in the third. Canucks captain Henrik Sedin capped the scoring with a pair of empty-net goals at 18:09 and 19:28 of regulation.
“(Miller) made some key saves in the key moments,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I think it was a well-played game from both teams. Their special teams were a little better than our special teams. That’s the real difference tonight.”
Still, the Red Wings liked some of the things they did on the first night of a six-game road trip.
“We got off to the started that we wanted to,” Howard said. “We really played well pretty much the majority of the game. Just they got one there, I never saw in the second and the second one I was going to cover it and it was poked away from me, so I mean, you can say they won the special teams. But I think the game was a lot closer than it seemed.”
As he’s been throughout the season, Howard was sharp again Saturday, giving the Red Wings an opportunity by keeping the score close.
“He gives us a chance to win every night,” Zetterberg said. “You can’t wish for anything more than that. He was stellar for us tonight again. Too bad we can’t score some goals for him.”
Coach Mike Babcock was happy with the way the team played defensively in front of Howard.
“Howie played good but our team played good too. It’s all part of it,” Babcock said. “The more consistent your team plays defensively the better your goalie can be without as much work load. So I thought tonight we gave Howie lots of support, but I also thought Howie made good saves.”
The Red Wings had their chances, especially on the power play – where they had six of their 30 team shots on goal – but they went 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
“I thought (Ryan) Miller was good and I didn’t think our specialty teams were good enough,” Babcock said. “Our first power play didn’t gain any momentum whatsoever. We made a mistake there on the first penalty kill. But you know, it’s one of those nights where you have to find a way to stay out of the box and have better specialty teams than the other team. I thought the game was tight, we gave ourselves a chance.”
During the Red Wings’ third power play of the game – their first of the final period – Ryan Miller thwarted two golden chances by Pavel Datsyuk from in close. The second save seemed to leave Datsyuk talking to himself as Miller covered the puck.
“Ryan’s just a great competitor, he doesn’t give up,” Howard said. “He tries to get any piece of equipment on the puck just to make the save and he’s patient and calm and uses his 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage. I wish I had that.”
Trailing by two goals during a four-on-four situation with less than four-minutes remaining, Babcock elected to pull Howard early for an extra attacking forward. The strategy paid off when Gustav Nyquist set up Tatar.
Zetterberg was certainly receptive to Babcock’s approach.
“I think you might as well,” Zetterberg said. “When you have that advantage of having one more guy out there and also when it’s four on four pull the goalie and you have a power play. I think it’s still a good move to do it.”
Howard agreed, saying “Anything can happen you just look around the league and see the goaltenders are getting pulled earlier and earlier and it seems to be paying off for teams. … It’s not going to pay off every single night.”