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Workhorse Howard gives Wings chance

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Defenseman Jakub Kindl was the first to congratulate Jimmy Howard on his 4-1 win in Saturday's Game 2 at Chicago. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – One mustn’t be a Blackhawks’ fan to appreciate the hair-raising excitement of being inside Chicago’s United Center during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” before a Stanley Cup playoff game.

There’s a reason that the 19-year-old building is known as the Madhouse on Madison.

The noise level begins with Francis Scott Key’s song as 21,000 deafening “background singers” scream and cheer along, making the United Center the loudest arena in the NHL, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said.

Howard did his best to tune-out the noisy crowd in Game 2 on Saturday, holding the Blackhawks to one goal on 20 shots as the Red Wings rolled to a 4-1 victory that tied the Western Conference semifinals, making it a best-of-five series with Game 3 scheduled for Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.

“Nothing really bothers him,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg, of the Red Wings’ goaltender. “If he lets in a goal, he just flushes it and moves on. He's a fierce competitor. It's tough to score on him in practice. He gets mad if you score on him in practice. So it's a challenge for us to do that, so it's a consistent battle.”

Make no mistake, Howard hasn’t been great. He’s 24 goals-allowed is actually tied for the most this postseason, but he’s been sharp when the Wings have needed him most through the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against the top-seeded Blackhawks, who have out-shot Detroit, 62-51.

“He didn't have to win us the game – for once,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I don't think we stole Game 2. I don't think we got lucky. I don't think the goalie had to do it. The goalie just had to play.”

It’s Howard’s composure that gives the Red Wings a chance to win every night. It also helped that he was the understudy for past Stanley Cup champions like Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek.

“They lived in the moment,” Howard said. “They just went – you know that old cliché – game by game, day by day. It’s no different for myself. It’s trying to find that fine line between not getting too high and not getting too low.”

Despite a 4-1 loss in Game 1, the score could have been much worse if not for the outstanding performance of Howard in the second period that preserved a 1-1 tie through 40-minutes. Though the ’Hawks only had 20 shots in Saturday’s loss they did have a few quality scoring chances that were snuffed out by Howard.

“Howie, he’s been stellar for us for three years now,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He just seems to get better and better. He’s been stealing games for us all season long and in the playoffs. He’s got confidence in a good way. He knows he’s a great goalie and obviously, believing in himself helps him prepare for each night and he goes out there and proves it each night.”

In 10 career starts at the United Center, including two playoff games, Howard’s Game 2 performance was the first time that he’s held the Blackhawks to fewer than two goals on their home ice. In four years, Howard has guided the Wings to an 11-5 record when he holds teams to two or fewer goals in the playoffs. Detroit is 7-14 when Howard surrenders two or more postseason goals.

The one thing the Anaheim Ducks had in the first round series against Detroit, and the Blackhawks have now, are two No. 1 goaltenders. However, the Red Wings intend to ride their workhorse as far as he’ll take them.

“I definitely don’t mind it,” said Howard, who has started 24 straight games. “I just enjoy the moment, going out there and playing and definitely having fun.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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