By: Dan Leach
Follow Dan Leach on Twitter @dtmleach
As the seconds melted away on yet another phenomenal performance by Red Wings net minder Jimmy Howard in this playoff year, you could see the look on his face as he took off his mask and celebrated a shutout win with his teammates. It was the look of confidence, the look of belief, and the look of a goaltender that is ready to make a run at hockey’s penultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Of course a goaltender can’t do it all by himself, but he sure can be the major reason a team is able to hoist the hardest trophy to win in all of sport.
Howard now has won three in a row and five of six, including an epic game seven on the road in Anaheim. He just shutout the Blackhawks, the first time they have been blanked all season, and seems to only be getting better when it matters most. There are a lot of Jimmy Howard haters out there and in the past, you couldn’t blame them, as Howard never really had that signature win in a playoff game or series.
This year is much different. If Howard keeps playing this way and the rest of the team continues their masterful play, it would not be crazy at all to say that Howard can win a Cup this year, when so many thought that impossible. All the more impressive, this Red Wing team also has to be considered a Wings team with the least options on the bench in recent memory.
This is a day and age in hockey when there really is no Hall of Fame-esque goalie; no Martin Brodeur, no Patrick Roy, those types of goalies. There are plenty of really good ones like Pekka Rinne, Henrick Lundqvist, and Tukka Rask, but no one that you know will always be a difference maker. That is the company Jimmy Howard is so close to joining. Much like Joe Flacco, who won a playoff game in each of his first five seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, but wasn’t considered elite until he won the Super Bowl. Howard can quiet all those doubters by winning it all.
Many were upset with the big money and long contract Jimmy got because he was yet to prove himself in the postseason. That is understandable. Jimmy had always seemed to be a great regular season goalie, but as all hockey fans know, all that matters, especially in Motown, is the second season. Now on the precipice of beating what many people much smarter than me thought was the best team in the NHL, Howard could move one series away from the Stanley Cup Finals, eight wins away from what so many always hoped he could do, but never believed he could. If he keeps up what he has shown over the past three games, the unthinkable just weeks ago could very well be in the cards.
As we talked with Jimmy Howard in the Wings locker room after what might have been the greatest game of his career, I got a tap on my shoulder. I looked behind and immediately realized I was in the presence of greatness. It was none other than Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe , one of if not the greatest Red Wing of all-time, still looking great even though he may walk a little slower, talk a little lower. I had to let Jimmy know that there was someone that wanted to say hello and when he saw who it was, he was genuinely full of admiration and gratitude.
He made it a point to come to congratulate Jimmy Howard and him alone and shake his hand. Not that so many of the other players on the team had not made Gordie proud, but this was a special night for Howard. One of the best ever to lace them up coming to let one that very well could be when all is said and done, that he was proud of what he has done, of what he is becoming, of what he is capable of, proud that he is a Red Wing.