A terrible start and worse finish

Mitch Albom SAYS HOWARD DID IT ALL, BUT his MATES DID LITTLE

A terrible start and worse finish

ANAHEIM, Calif. For much of the night in this critical Game 5, the Red Wings and the Ducks needed a case of Red Bull.

And Jimmy Howard needed a sedative. Howard went high, low, knees, blocker, glove, shoulder, squat, jump, slide. He had more energy than the next five guys in red. He did everything humanly possible to keep his team alive. “He’s been tremendous. He is tremendous,” said Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau. And he coaches the OTHER guys! Howard saved 31 shots in 33 regulation chances Wednesday night – and many were impossible shots caused by weak play or bad defense by his teammates.

Until finally, less than two minutes gone in overtime, a puck went across the Wings’ crease, untouched by Detroit’s Joakim Andersson, and the Ducks’ Nick Bonino had a free shot.

He took it.

And Howard needed an aspirin.

Final score: Ducks 3, Wings 2. Anaheim leads the first-round series, three games to two, and can close it out tonight at the Joe. You can’t be surprised. It was an awkward game, sloppy hockey at times, too many missed pucks, half-whiffs, intercepted passes and giveaways. With neither team able to sustain good effort, it seemed destined to go to overtime. It did.

And it did not end well for Detroit.

Nor did it start well.

“I thought in the first period, we watched,” coach Mike Babcock said. That’s OK if you bought a ticket. Not if you wear skates. No knock on Southern California, but whatever the Wings did during the day Wednesday, they should never do it again.

The middle period saw the Wings wake up – and make up. They had six shots (four on goal) in the first four minutes, several takeaways as well. They so outplayed Anaheim, Boudreau called a time-out 4:17 in. You can go through a decade of hockey games and never see a time-out at 4:17 of the second period!

In time, the Wings’ effort paid off. A good dig by Pavel Datsyuk led to a Henrik Zetterberg shot off Jonas Hiller that could not have rebounded any more perfectly if an astrophysicist designed it. Mikael Samuelsson took that puck in perfect flying stride and whipped it top shelf for a 2-1 lead, his first goal of an injury-plagued year.

At that point, midway through the game, you got the sense that if the Wings put one more past Hiller, this was over.

But hockey is a game of burying chances, not just getting them, and the Wings blew the former after achieving the latter when a major boarding penalty was called on Daniel Winnik at 14:15 of the second period. That gave the Wings five minutes of power play. One goal, and this series might be very different right now.

There is not much Howard can do about that. And not much he could do in the final minute of the period, when, with the Ducks now on a power play, Ryan Getzlaf came skating down behind a line of players with way too much time for a guy with his talent. He lined up a shot and fired it past Howard. The game was tied, 2-2.

Which brings us to the overtime, and the winning shot, less than two minutes in, a great play by defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who made a terrific move in the corner, deked Brian Lashoff out of his skates, came free, and slid the puck across the crease. Howard might have screamed, “HEY, SOMEBODY KNOCK IT AWAY!” But the only Red Wings somebody in sight was Andersson, who, for some reason never touched it, and watched it go right to Bonino’s stick.

All that was left was to close your eyes.

The Wings will be very happy to say good-bye to these insane Western Conference road trips next season.

But right now, they’d be happier to say good-bye to the Ducks. It’ll take two victories to do it. Mostly it’ll take Howard being as great as he was Wednesday night – and his teammates getting a lot closer to his effort, and a lot further from theirs.

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