SAN JOSE, Calif. – This is what the Red Wings were hoping for when they entered the offseason free agency market looking for an experienced goaltender to back-up their starter, Jimmy Howard.
Making his first start in a Red Wings uniform, Jonas Gustavsson used every bit of his 6-foot-3 and 192-pound frame to deliver one big save after another in 60-minutes of regulation, plus another five-minutes of overtime, Thursday night at HP Pavilion.
He made 25 saves, many of the spectacular variety, and was perfect in the shootout stopping all three Sharks’ shooters for a 2-1 win for the Red Wings, who split their two-day, two-game California road trip. Detroit lost by the same score in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
“I thought we played real well last night and didn’t get any results,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought that we built off that tonight. L.A. and San Jose are big teams, and on back-to-back nights that’s going to be tough, but I thought our guys were mentally tough. Gus played well for us and our team really competed.”
Gustavsson has made two relief appearances this season, however, until this point, he’s mainly been relegated to watching Howard – and the club’s top AHL prospect Petr Mrazek – for much of this lockout-shortened season. Gustavsson suffered a groin injury in his first relief role on Jan. 19 and has had a few setbacks since.
“I was really excited to play today and you play because you want to win,” Gustavsson said. “That’s the best feeling that you can have, so I’m really happy with the win and how the guys performed today. They helped me a lot. They made it easier for me.”
For the second straight night, defense definitely carried the Wings. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall led the Wings’ block party, getting in front of four Sharks’ shots. In all, Detroit blocked 23 shots with rookie defenseman Brendan Smith and forward Johan Franzen collecting three bocks each.
Gustavsson was helped out by perhaps the defensive play of the game late in the second period. Rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff, who received a shiny new three-year contract extension earlier in the week, came up big by thwarting an excellent scoring chance by the Sharks. With center Joe Thornton and right wing Martin Havlat cruising in on a 2-on-1, Lashoff stayed with his assignment and made a sliding play through the slot cutting off Thornton’s cross-ice pass and eliminating the scoring threat.
“He was unbelievable, I mean, he’s been playing really well this year,” Gustavsson said. “I actually played with his brother (Matt) in Toronto, but he played well, especially on that 2-on-1. Unbelievable, how he read the play there. It gives you confidence when you feel that you have some Ds out there like that.”
Gustavsson came up with a few dandy plays of his own. First, he stopped Michal Handzus’s redirect from point-blank range that kept the game scoreless midway through the second period.
Later, Gustavsson prevented the Sharks from going up 2-1 in the third when he robbed Patrick Marleau, who tried to wrap a shot around the goalie’s out-stretched left leg. Marleau had a second shot, but Henrik Zetterberg cleared the puck out of the crease on the backcheck.
“I felt like at first I was going to be aggressive on him and then when he tried to go around me I tried to have my leg down and push there and I felt I had some guys behind me,” Gustavsson said. “You never know what's going to happen on the rebound but the guys helped me a lot.”
The Wings sealed the win when Damien Brunner scored his second shootout-winning goal of his NHL career. Meanwhile, Gustavsson continued his brilliance on the other end of the rink, making shootout saves on Handzus, Marleau and Ryane Clowe.
“What I liked about him is he earned himself more time in net,” said Babcock of Gustavsson. “The other thing is it never hurts to have competition and people pushing each other. The season's a grind. Howie needs a breather every once in a while. Howie will go against Chicago and Gus will be ready to go right away.”
THREE STARS: 3, Patrick Marleau, SJS (5 shots); 2, Antti Niemi, SJS (33 saves, L); 1, Jonas Gustavsson, DET (25 saves, W).
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