THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES
This season marked the first time Howard made the All-Star team; winning 31 games by the time the calendar hit February 1. That was followed by a finger injury, then the groin injury, and all of the sudden; the Red Wings netminder had just four wins to his credit over the final two-plus months of the regular season.
Howard made 27 saves in a victory over St. Louis last week, a game that had playoff intensity and feel to it. He is also 2-1-1 over his last four starts, with a stellar 1.66 GAA and a .937 save percentage, which is a good sign that those injuries are in the rearview mirror. And didn’t you just love how Howard told John Keating after sweeping Phoenix last year that he wasn’t ready to sleep until June? That’s exactly what you want to see and hear from the last line of defense.
“I’m feeling better and I’ve been playing a lot better as of late, especially compared to a month ago,” Howard said. “It was like I had been thrown out of whack, especially when we were out West, it seemed like things were going at a million miles an hour, but over the last four games, as each game has passed, I feel like I’m playing a lot better and that’s a good sign.
Players and fans alike are relieved that Nashville is a simple, one-hour flight from DTW, as opposed to Phoenix, Los Angeles, or San Jose. (four-plus hours and a three-hour time change) And if say, Chicago were to upset Phoenix and Detroit were to take care of the Predators, the Wings may not have to head to the West Coast until the Western Conference Final.
Those are hypothetical situations. While the Red Wings won 21 straight games at Joe Louis Arena during the regular season, they were 17-21-3 on the road in 2011-12. How’s that for Jekyl and Hyde?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I wish I did, or else we would have solved it.”
“We were the exact opposite hockey club last year, so good on the road and not as good at home. Maybe we got so focused on it, got rolling at home to the point we weren’t so good on the road. I don’t know the answer. I know Nashville won five more games than we did on the road.”
As the fifth seed, the Red Wings will have to win at least one game at Bridgestone Arena to win the best-of-seven series.
Nashville’s Acquisitions vs. the Red Wings Health
There’s no better news to report than the fact that everybody has been skating over the last few days. This includes Darren Helm, who suffered a knee injury during an overtime loss to San Jose on March 17.
Helm’s status will be determined after today’s morning skate. Mike Babcock said the decision will be up to his player, but he’d like to have him in the lineup.
Will Helm be 100 percent? Of course not. Few players are this time of year, but having his speed and energy helps. And you have to feel good about a Red Wings squad that features a healthy Darren Helm, Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Ericsson.
Just like Nashville has to feel good about adding Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Alexander Radulov to a lineup that already included Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne and Mike Fisher.
Jiri Hudler was one player with very high praise for his former KHL counterpart.
“He was a star,” Hudler said. “The best player in the league back there and I’m pretty sure he will be here too.”
“I think it will help him a little that he came right after the season. He played a lot of minutes back home and he was one of the best players while he was there. He plays hard, brings a lot of good energy and has a good hockey sense. He’s a good playoff guy.”
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