– Jimmy Howard
will get his sixth start this month when the Red Wings host the Nashville Predators tonight in what should be a Western Conference grudge-match of epic proportion.
OK, maybe not epic, but certainly important for two clubs fighting for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs, which begin April 11.
“Tonight's a huge game, it could have huge home-ice implications,” Howard said. “We're going to have to play our game, forget about what happened in Columbus. … We got to go out there and continue to pay attention to details.”
The Wings maintain a one-point lead over the Predators for the No. 4 playoff seed, which carries with it the last home-ice spot in the opening round.
With five games remaining in the regular-season, this last week should provide adequate time for him to prepare for the playoffs, Howard said.
“Excited to be back out there with the guys and playing,” said Howard who has battled through two groin strains and a fractured finger for the last two months. “Just going out there and forgetting about the past here, the last month and a half. I think I'm prepared, I've been working hard to get back there, I've been working hard on the ice. I'm just going to go out there and play.”
Because of the injuries, Howard has started eight of the last 25 games for the Wings. Since breaking his right index finger in the first game in February, the Wings have posted an 11-10-4 record.
But the past is the past, and there isn’t much the Wings can do about that now, other than take care of business, particularly since four of the last five games are at Joe Louis Arena.
“Jimmy says he's feeling good about himself so obviously we'd like to get him going,” coach Mike Babcock said. “When you look at our last 22 games, he's played in seven of them. We need to get him going. No different than the rest of our team. There's a lot of urgency to get playing at the highest possible level going into the playoffs and he's the same.”
Still, there’s a slight concern that Howard’s groin injury, which forced him to miss four more games after he returned from the initial strain, will flare up again. But Howard isn’t worried this time around.
“The second time we took a different approach, more strengthening it, it feels a lot stronger out there,” he said. “Today was the date from the start we were targeting, 4-5 games left, chance to get back out there and get into game-shape.”
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