DETROIT – Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is trying to forget how he’s played lately.
Good luck, kid.
Howard has given up four goals in two straight games to the Phoenix Coyotes, who are now a win away from putting Detroit on the brink of elimination.
“Being a goalie, you have to have short-term memory,” Howard said after Monday’s practice.
The two-time defending Western Conference champions will host Phoenix in Game 4 Tuesday night, trailing 2-1 in the first-round series.
They’re counting on their rookie in net to bounce back, instead of putting veteran Chris Osgood in the lineup, and are not worrying about his NHL-worst 3.73 goals-against average in the playoffs.
“That’s not a concern for us at all,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
On the day Detroit’s goalie was being scrutinized, Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was being hailed. He was announced as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, an award for the NHL’s best goaltender, after helping Phoenix set records for wins and points this season.
“It’s a big honour for me and all my teammates,” he said.
If Bryzgalov can beat Detroit two more times, he will lift the franchise to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1987, when it was still the Winnipeg Jets.
“He’s been our MVP,” Phoenix defenceman Derek Morris said. “He’s the reason we are where we are.”
Detroit might not be in the playoffs for the 19th straight time had Howard not played as well as he did during the regular season.
Howard beat out Osgood for the job and finished fourth in the league in save percentage and fifth in goals-against average, emerging as a strong candidate to be the first Red Wing to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year since Roger Crozier in 1965.
“He’s a good goalie, but we just did a good job of getting traffic in front of him in Game 3,” Morris said.
Babcock said taking care of the puck will be the key in Game 4 for the Red Wings, who spent much of Game 3 chasing the Coyotes.
“When you turn over pucks, you don’t have good defensive structure and your goaltender doesn’t look as good,” he said.
The Coyotes might get a boost from the return of captain Shane Doan, whose right shoulder hit the endboards and ended his game early in the second period Sunday. Doan had a goal and an assist during the first two games, which were split in Phoenix, and led the team with 55 points during the regular season.
Doan skated before his teammates practised Monday and is expected to be evaluated after Tuesday’s skate.
“We’ll get a good indication (in the) morning,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “He was in good spirits and that was positive.”
Howard insisted he felt good mentally, the opposite of nervous, after the third playoff game of his career.
“If you dwell on the negative, that’s when the floor comes out from underneath you,” he said. “You have to remain positive.”
Red Wings fans, though, who put the franchise’s goalies in the spotlight as much as quarterbacks for the Lions, are not quite as upbeat about Howard after raving about his play during the regular season.
“The love-hate relationship with goalies here, whatever,” Howard said.