VANCOUVER – The injury-depleted Detroit Red Wings just wanted to hang around and wait for their chances.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard gave them a chance to do just that.
Howard made 34 saves in the first 65 minutes and three more in the shootout as the Red Wings ground out a 2-1 win in Saturday’s Western Conference showdown with the Vancouver Canucks.
“We just stuck with it,” defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said after the game between the league’s top two teams.
“We didn’t have any letdowns when they got their power-play goal. We didn’t give up and continued to work and Howie made some big saves where it looked like they had open nets to score a couple of goals.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock preached patience and responsible defence before the game.
“It was just one of those situations if we could hang around, hang around, we’d have a chance,” he said.
“They’re deeper than we are right now so if they got rolling here tonight … we were going to be in trouble so I think the way we approached it was a good way and in the end we got our points.”
Howard wasn’t even expected to start but veteran Chris Osgood couldn’t go because of a nagging groin problem.
Howard found out he’d be playing after the morning skate but seemed to thrive on the workload as he backstopped Detroit to a second consecutive win in as many nights.
Detroit was also skating without defenceman Brad Stuart who suffered a broken jaw when hit in Friday’s 5-4 overtime win in Calgary by Tom Kostopoulos.
Already missing from the lineup were Pavel Datsyuk (hand), Dan Cleary (ankle), Mike Modano (wrist) and Valtteri Filppula (groin).
The Canucks had won eight straight and hadn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 5, but Howard showed he was ready for them with a larcenous save off Daniel Sedin’s backhand four minutes into the game.
“It was huge,” Howard said of the save which carried him back into his own net and resulted in a video review to determine the puck didn’t go over the line.
“I didn’t give up on it. I knew he had the whole net and I just never took my eye off his stick and I was able to get a glove on it just before I crossed the line.”
Sedin was in alone on Howard on a set play with brother Henrik who fired a 180-foot pass off the end boards that the streaking Daniel recovered to negate an icing call.
Jiri Hudler, who has struggled since his return this season from the KHL, scored the overtime winner as Detroit’s first shooter. He beat Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo with a low slapshot.
Johan Franzen of the Wings and Daniel Sedin scored power-play goals in regulation time.
Howard, who let Vancouver shooters make the first move all night, denied Sedin in the shootout along with Jeff Tambellini and Ryan Kesler.
“It’s just not giving up,” Howard said after Franzen erased a one-goal deficit in the third period when he broke in on Luongo after taking Henrik Zetterberg’s flip pass.
“We found an extra gear there,” Howard said. “This group is resilient. Even though there’s injuries, we’re missing key guys, big guys in our lineup, we’re not going to let those be excuses.”
The regulation tie enabled Vancouver to cling to first place in the Western Conference.
The Wings won for the sixth time in eight games to improve to 27-10-5 and pull to within a point of the Canucks who slipped to 27-8-6 and have a game in hand.
Vancouver still has points in a franchise-record 16 consecutive games and has chalked up a 13-0-3 record since dropping a 3-2 decision to St. Louis on Dec. 5.
“It was a playoff type of game,”said Tambellini who fired over the net in the overtime session.
“That’s exactly what we thought we’d get into tonight. They battled hard and had some good chances and the same with us. When it comes down to a shootout, it is what it is.”
Niklas Kronwall had the best chance in overtime when he put the puck in the net but the score was waived off because Detroit teammate Todd Bertuzzi had crashed into Luongo.
“I thought both teams played real well,”said Canuck coach Alain Vigneault.“Our guys emptied the tank.
“They were on a tough stretch, too, and we were on a tough stretch–five games in seven nights–and tried to put our best foot forward and gave it a real solid effort, (but) came up short on the shootout.”
Notes:Osgood backed up Howard but is scheduled to fly to Detroit on Sunday and see a specialist on Monday in Philadelphia … next up for the Canucks is a five-game road trip starting Tuesday against the New York Islanders … Luongo made only his fourth start in nine games … the teams conclude their season series March 23 in Detroit.