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Wings ride Howard with playoffs at stake

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard starts his fourth straight game, when the Red Wings seek to clinch a playoff berth for the 25th consecutive season tonight against the Bruins. (Photo by Getty Images)

BOSTON – It was just two months ago that Jimmy Howard’s future in Detroit was in peril.

Detractors were prepared to toss the veteran goaltender, and the Red Wings’ playoff chances, on the trash heap.

But now, with a playoff berth dangling in front of the Wings like low-hanging fruit, Howard will start his fourth straight game, the second on back-to-back nights. It’s also the second time in a week that Howard gets starts on consecutive nights. He backstopped Detroit to 3-2 wins over Minnesota last Friday and at Toronto last Saturday.

“Howie’s been unbelievable,” center Luke Glendening said Thursday morning. “He’s really stuck with in through a little shaky period, and to see him play the way he is right now is awesome for this team, it’s awesome for him. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Philadelphia in the regular-season home finale was monumental for the Red Wings, who are looking to extend their Stanley Cup playoff streak to 25 straight seasons.

But tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden is the latest contest to earn ‘the biggest game’ status in the past month. Detroit will secure a playoff berth with a win, in any fashion, over the Bruins.

“It’s one of them (biggest games) for sure,” Glendening said. “I think every game these past couple of weeks has been pretty big and two years prior to that down the stretch we had to win some games to get in. So we’ve just gotta continue fighting and we know today is another day.”

It’s definitely been one crazy season for the Red Wings, and certainly for the goalies, who have each battled ebbs and flows in their performances. Howard had a very good start to the season but struggled in January and February as Petr Mrazek claimed the No. 1 role. But since then the two have flip flopped and Howard is now counted on to get the Wings into the playoffs.

It’s pressure that Howard hasn’t backed down from in the past, especially in the lockout-shorted 2013 season when he was a workhorse playing in all 18 games on nine sets of back-to-back nights.

Now, during the most important stretch of the Wings’ season, he is showing flashes of the success he had three years ago.

Since getting pulled in a 6-2 loss at Tampa Bay on March 22, Howard has been stellar, posting a 2.21 goals-against average with a .921 save percentage in six appearances, including four starts. In those starts he’s 4-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA, a .943 save percentage, and a shutout.

Following his 30-save performance Wednesday, Howard credited the role his teammates played while clearing lanes so he could see most of the Flyers’ shots. Detroit registered 21 blocked shots in the defensive zone.

“You saw it from everyone,” said Glendening, who led the Wings’ forwards with four blocks. “A lot of guys had blocks but we have to play that style. We don’t want to get into a scoring race with somebody but if we can play good defensively it gives ourselves a chance.”

The Wings established a successful template in Wednesday’s dominant win. They’ll need a duplicate effort tonight against a Boston team, who – despite going 2-7-1 in its last 10 games – can strike quickly with forwards Loui Eriksson (five goals, 12 points in last 12 games) and Patrice Bergeron (11 goals, 20 points in last 24 games).

“They’ve got great forwards, have some great D, and their goalie’s outstanding, so it’s gonna be a tough task,” Glendening said. “We just gotta try to settle in and get into our game quick. It’s a quick turnaround here but no excuses.”

The Wings have played at an incredible energy level in the last week. They can do themselves a favor with a win tonight, which would allow them to hold out some stars in Saturday afternoon’s season finale at the New York Rangers.

“I think you’ve gotta find joy in that,” Glendening said. “You’ve gotta enjoy the moment, enjoy the games and use your adrenaline to your advantage, use your emotion to your advantage.”

GYM RAT: T.J. Lang, the 300-pound offensive lineman of the Green Bay Packers, who occasionally works out with some of the Red Wings, including Glendening, would have been proud of the Red Wings’ fourth line center Thursday.

During a visit to the Wings' locker room last week, Lang referred to Glendening as a gym rat, who works out day and night. Well, Glendening was the only Wing in Wednesday’s lineup to participate in Thursday’s optional skate at TD Garden.

“I just gotta get up and do something,” Glendening confessed. “Everyone’s different, everyone has their own idea of what it means to get ready for the morning, and it’s no better, no worse with whatever you decide.”

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