DETROIT – Jimmy Howard sat in front of his locker for nearly 25 minutes Wednesday morning, settling in as one of the reasons the Detroit Red Wings hold a 2-1 edge over the Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals.
After making 39 saves in Detroit's Game 3 victory, Howard speaks with the kind of confidence and assurance enjoyed by playoff-tested goalkeepers.
But as good as he and his Red Wings teammates have been over the past two games, Howard understands the Hawks have plenty of incentive to start strong in Thursday night's Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena.
"We know they're going to come out flying," Howard said. "I know if it was me, that's what I would do – I would probably have my best game in Game 4 so it's going to be on us to focus in that much more and go out here and get the job done."
The Red Wings have neutralized a Hawks offense that was one of only six in the NHL to average at least three goals a game. Patrick Kane has accounted for both of the Hawks' goals in the past two games after the Hawks scored four goals in a one-sided Game 1 win.
Detroit's penalty kill has been nearly flawless in the first three games of the series, allowing only one goal on the Hawks' nine power play chances. Howard has played a key role in that success, but the Red Wings' penalty killers have gotten into scoring lanes and have all but eliminated opportunities for the Hawks' power play to get rolling.
"They've got so much talent and so much firepower up front and even on the back end there with (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook and (Nick) Leddy – it doesn't matter who it is, the list goes on," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwell said Wednesday. "So we just have to keep doing a good job of being in the lanes and leave them the outside."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock likes the way his defense has responded to handling the Hawks' top scorers. But the key to continuing to do that is limiting the opportunities and space scorers such as Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have to create scoring chances. If they don't, Babcock knows, it's just a matter of time before the Hawks' scoring punch returns.
"The last game, I thought we we were good for two periods and then we stood around and watched [the Hawks] play in the third," Babcock said. "We can't play like that if we're going to have success in Game 4. We have to play a full 60 [minutes]."