DETROIT – It was out of pure desperation that Jimmy Howard made the save of the game from one of the most vulnerable positions a goaltender can be in.
With his arms stretched out over his head and the rest of his body in the air and parallel to the ice, Howard threw himself back over the blue paint where he robbed Colorado center John Mitchell of a sure goal.
“It was just one of those things,” Howard said. “You do it in practice, never give up on pucks in practice and sometimes in games you come up with it.”
The third-period save on Mitchell was just one of many highlight reel saves that Howard made during the Red Wings’ 2-1 win over the Avalanche on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
As he was in Sunday’s shootout loss to Chicago – where he allowed just one goal in regulation – Howard was spectacular against the Avs, making 36 saves, many of which left their shooters spellbound.
Cruising in on the right wing, Mitchell picked up a rebound and flipped a shot on his back-hand, which was earmarked for a large opening in the Wings’ net.
“I figured he would go down a little earlier, but he dove over and kept his hands up,” Mitchell said. “I was in so tight that I really didn’t have much room. All I was trying to do was get it up and hopefully he was going to be down with all of his gloves and stick. But he made a great save by keeping his hands up.”
Howard made 15 saves alone in the third period. The Avs finally beat him when with 1:30 left in regulation, Paul Stastny scored on his own rebound. Howard kicked out Statsny’s initial shot, but the puck went right back to Stastny, who reached with his backhand in traffic and squeezed a shot between Howard’s body and the near post.
Despite the goal, Howard’s stellar play protected the Wings’ two-goal cushion for more than 18-minutes of the final period. Moments after stopping Mitchell, he came up again, this time stopping a breakaway chance by P.A. Parenteau.
“What can you say? He bailed us out tonight,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who scored his third goal of the season on Tuesday. “If it weren’t for him we probably wouldn’t have won that game.”
The Wings built a 2-0 lead when Johan Franzen and Kronwall scored even-strength goals more than 10-minutes apart in the second period. It was Franzen’s first goal in a month and his first game-winner in more than a year.
For the fourth straight time, the Red Wings didn’t allow a goal in the first 40 minutes. Detroit’s defense has definitely stiffened over the last six games, surrendering just nine goals in the team’s 4-1-1 stretch.
Yet despite the improved defense, Kronwall wasn’t overly satisfied with the team’s performance.
“It was way too much open hockey for us, especially in the first,” he said. “I thought in the second we got better. But obviously, Howie’s coming up huge for us … giving us a chance. You cannot ask anything more in a goalie.”
After the game, Mitchell admitted that Howard’s acrobatic stop was probably one of the best saves against him in his five NHL seasons.
“Marc-Andre Fleury robbed me last year pretty hard, probably even worse than that,” said Mitchell, who has one goal in the last eight games. “I’m not really having too much luck in tight with a goalie kind of down and out. Credit to him, he made a great save.
“I have to bury that.”
THREE STARS: 3, Johan Franzen, DET (1 goal); 2, Niklas Kronwall, DET (1 goal); 1, Jimmy Howard, DET (36 saves, W).
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose