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Gustavsson plays well in first start back

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Jonas Gustavsson made his first start for the Red Wings in 111 days since he suffered a shoulder injury on Nov. 5 at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

LOS ANGELES – The Red Wings like the depth that their three goaltenders give them.

But which two gives them the best coverage when the postseason begins?

The Wings have stated before that Jimmy Howard is the undisputed No. 1 starter. Though the veteran missed a month with a groin injury, he has declared himself healed and says he’s feeling comfortable again in the crease.

That leaves often-injured Jonas Gustavsson and rookie Petr Mrazek, who is playing in AHL Grand Rapids, as options as Howard’s backup with the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs seven weeks away.

On Tuesday, the Wings got what they hoped – a glimpse into what Gustavsson gives them down the stretch. Monster turned in a solid effort in his first start in nearly four months.

“I thought Gus played well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I think Gus plays well all of the time, he just doesn’t play. He’s been injured so much, so when he plays I think he plays well. I think he gives us a chance most nights.”

Despite a 26-save performance from Gustavsson, the Red Wings didn’t get a puck behind Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped all 20 shots he faced in defeating Detroit, 1-0, at Staples Center.

Gustavsson suffered a separated left shoulder while lunging for a loose puck in overtime against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5. Last month he went to Grand Rapids on a rehabilitation assignment, playing two games with the Griffins and earning a shutout in the second game.

He picked up a win in third-period relief last Saturday in Dallas when he made two saves on two shots in what was his first appearance in 108 days.

“I felt good,” Gustavsson said. “I got two games in the minors. I got some practice there and I’ve been practicing hard for several weeks now, so it was fun to get out there and play.”

The Kings scored the game’s lone goal on a power play in the opening minutes of the first period. Jake Muzzin’s point shot was tipped twice – first by Anze Kopitar and then Justin Williams – before it bounced past Gustavsson at 2:24.

“It’s always frustrating to let in a goal, but you’ve just got to move on,” he said. “It was a good shot, a good deflection. You’ve just got to move on whether it’s a good goal or a bad goal. You’re looking forward to the next puck, the next save. That’s what I did.”

Los Angeles came close to grabbing a two-goal lead before the first period reached the midway point. Fortunately for the Wings’ backup luck was on his side when Marian Gaborik converted a turnover into a scoring chance. But the Kings’ right wing fired a shot off the far post with 13:45 left in the period.

In 35 starts since signing as a free agent with the Red Wings in 2012, Gustavsson has always given an honest effort while giving the team a chance to win every night – when he’s been healthy. And that’s been the biggest challenge for the 30-year-old Swede, hence, only 39 games played in three seasons.

“Monster did a good job for us,” Justin Abdelkader said. “I think he played great. He’s been working hard to get rehabbed, to get healthy, to get ready for this opportunity and I thought he did a great job. He played the puck well for us. He made big saves. He takes up a lot of the net so even if he doesn’t see pucks they seem to hit him.”

Gustavsson doesn’t know when his next start will come, but he plans to prepare as he always has.

“I’m just going to try and take advantage of the opportunities I get and work hard in practice,” he said. “It’s only six weeks or so left in the season, so we’ll see what happens. That’s not really in my focus, either. I’m just going to do whatever I can when I get the chance and show that I can be out there. Then we’ll see how many chances I can get. But in the end it’s all about the team getting points and getting a good position to get a good playoff run going.”

The Red Wings remain three points behind idle Tampa Bay (80 points) in the Atlantic Division and lost ground to first-place Montreal (83 points), who posted a 5-2 win at St. Louis Tuesday. It was third time the Red Wings have been shutout this season and the second in the last five games.

The win was the eighth straight for the Kings, who avenged a 5-2 loss to Detroit at Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 31 to share a split in the two-game season series between the two teams.

“I just thought it was a good hockey game. It was tight,” Babcock said. “We talk lots about trying to start quick. When you play back to back sometimes it takes you a little bit. The 2 on 1 there early and then they scored on the power play right away and we lost it. … But Gus gave us an opportunity and our guys really battled hard. They’re a good team and we’re a good team and there wasn’t much room out there.”

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