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Howard a bright spot in his return

by Kyle Kujawa / Detroit Red Wings
CHICAGO – Before Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Jimmy Howard said that he wasn’t expecting to return to his spot between the pipes and make everything look ‘perfect, or pretty.’

“Tonight is about battling,” Howard said. “It’s about getting my feet wet again and giving the guys a good chance to win.”

Jimmy Howard battled all right. It just wasn’t the battle he expected to find himself in. He was one of the few bright spots in the Red Wings’ 2-1 loss at the United Center, making 27 saves while facing a deluge of scoring chances from Chicago’s potent offensive core.

“I felt good,” Howard said afterwards. “I actually felt better than I thought I was going to feel.”

“That’s just a tribute to working hard, the job of our strength and conditioning coach and working with Jimmy B(edard) every single day on skating and drills.”

At the end of a busy day for Hockeytown, one that saw Dan Cleary return to the lineup, Pavel Datsyuk sidelined due to a minor knee procedure and the acquisition of old friend Kyle Quincey, the Red Wings' got their All-Star goaltender back.

And he shined brightly, even in defeat.

“He looked like his old self out there,” Nick Lidstrom said. “He’s been working awful hard in practice to get back to this point and you certainly saw that tonight. He kept us in the game with several big saves.”

Howard didn’t just keep his team in the game, but gave them a chance to win by making stop after big stop, seemingly over and over again. Patrick Sharp was particularly snake-bitten, stopped four times, but three of those were golden opportunities, including a play that saw Howard slip from right to left, getting his pad in front of a shot from just outside the crease, off the centering pass from Patrick Kane.

“I could see his (Kane) eyes going back door,” Howard said. “You could see Sharp sneaking behind there and I just waited until he passed the puck across before lunging for it.”

The league leader in wins was arguably more outstanding in the second period, despite giving up a rebound goal to Jimmy Hayes at the 7:45 mark. Howard stopped Michael Frolik on a shorthanded breakaway, blanked Dave Bolland’s shot after he managed to beat the defense, and then robbed Kane on a breakaway opportunity at the game’s midway point.

“For me it’s just being patient,” Howard said. “When they get in close, you take away everything by attacking them. You just push it to them so they can’t elevate the puck.”

Meanwhile the Red Wings attack, without Datsyuk in the lineup, never could hit its stride. While they outshot Chicago 32-29, to the naked eye, the ice was tilted the other way for much of the night.

“I thought Jimmy was good,” Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock said.  “I don’t know how many shots we had, but I don’t think we put a lot of heat on their D or their goaltender.”

That meant it was up to Howard to keep his team in the game.

 “You enjoy being out there and competing like that,” Howard said. “You enjoy being in close games. I like that.”

You can bet his teammates appreciated the effort. It is hopefully the first sign of a brilliant stretch run in an already outstanding season for the Red Wings netminder.
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