GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the Red Wings trailed the Phoenix Coyotes in their first-round Western Conference series there were calls in Detroit for rookie goalie Jimmy Howard to be replaced by veteran Chris Osgood.
The way Howard has played the last two games, there is no one the Red Wings would rather have in net.
Howard stopped 30 shots to lead Detroit to a 4-1 victory over Phoenix on Friday night that gave the Red Wings a 3-2 series advantage.
“Those are things you’ve got to grow through,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “As a goaltender, if you can be that guy that’s good all the time but really good at playoff time, you’ve obviously got a pretty happy team.”
Howard went 37-15-10 with a 2.26 goals-against average in the regular season but allowed four goals in Games 2 and 3. He has given up only one since.
“I’m having fun out there,” Howard said. “This is the time of the year it’s fun. You leave everything out there on the ice every single night, and it’s been a blast. I sort of cherish it out there.”
Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk each had a goal and an assist, Henrik Zetterberg scored for the sixth time in the series and Drew Miller added a goal to put the Coyotes on the verge of elimination.
The Red Wings can end the series Sunday at home.
Detroit has won Game 5 six times in the last seven series tied 2-2. This one was mostly due to Howard, who kept the game tight until the Red Wings’ offence came alive.
Holmstrom and Datsyuk scored 1:10 apart midway through the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Zetterberg added an empty-netter.
Howard’s biggest saves came just under five minutes into the third with the score tied. Martin Hanzal had a chance to put the Coyotes ahead when he jumped on the puck after coming out of the penalty box, but Howard blocked his breakaway shot. Then, from his back, he got a piece of Hanzal’s rebound attempt.
“That’s when I thought I was locked in out there,” Howard said.
“That’s the game anyway you look at it,” Babcock said.
Detroit is the first team in this series to win consecutive games and has a lead for the first time.
Ed Jovanovski scored for Phoenix, and Ilya Bryzgalov had 25 saves.
The Coyotes were without captain Shane Doan for a second straight game due to an upper body injury, but they kept this one close most of the way.
Phoenix brought an 0-for-14 drought on the power play into the game and failed to score on its first opportunity after falling behind 1-0. But 12 seconds after that power play expired, Jovanovski swept in a rebound at 9:45 of the second.
The goal woke up the crowd and gave the Coyotes a little of the offensive boost they were looking for after being blanked in Game 3. But they couldn’t solve Howard the rest of the game.
Phoenix, which has continued to surprise and overcome adversity throughout the season, will attempt to do something it has never done as a franchise, rally from a 3-2 series deficit. Since moving to Arizona in 1996, the Coyotes have never won a post-season series (0-5).
“If you’ve ever been through a team that has fought through adversity, this is one of them,” coach Dave Tippett said. “It seems like we’ve been getting piled on as it goes. That’s become part of our identity. The one thing we can do is live up to our identity.”
Holmstrom put Detroit ahead for good when he tapped the puck into an open net off a rebound with 8:51 left.
Datsyuk gave the Red Wings a two-goal cushion with 7:41 to play before Zetterberg closed the scoring with 56 seconds remaining.
“They are playing real good defence,” Zetterberg said. “It’s tough to get anything easy, you got to work hard for it, and we tried our patience. Finally we found a few ways to put the puck on the net and score some goals.”
Miller scored first at 17:04 of the opening period when his shot from just outside the crease ricocheted in off Vernon Fiddler’s skate.
NOTES: Coyotes D Mathieu Schneider was added to the lineup in place of F Robert Lang. The 40-year-old Schneider, who has played for 10 teams, has appeared in the playoffs with seven clubs. … Detroit F Johan Franzen has a point in each game of this series. … Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom had an assist to tie Al MacInnis (121) for the third most in the post-season by a defenceman. … The Coyotes started selling tickets for the second round on Friday morning.