If they gave out a Comeback Player of the Series Award, Jimmy Howard would win it, hands down.
Or, should I say, mask down.
Howard, the Red Wings’ rookie goalie in title only, has added to his burgeoning legend.
It was vintage Chris Osgood: follow up a stinker by coming out smelling like a rose.
Howard rebounded from a rocky Game 3 and was impenetrable in Game 4’s 3-0 win, jamming a hockey puck into the mouths of his detractors who’d have rather seen his mentor Osgood between the pipes, a suggestion only slightly less reactionary than using a bazooka to kill a gnat.
There have been many iconic images flitting through the minds of the Hockeytown faithful throughout the spate of Stanley Cups since 1997.
Darren McCarty’s beautiful, where-did-THAT-come-from move that was essentially the Cup-winning goal in ’97; Kris Draper’s overtime goal that completed a storied comeback in Game 2 of the ’98 Finals; Igor Larionov’s tally made in slow motion that ended Game 3 of the ’02 Finals in triple overtime; Colorado’s Patrick Roy and his failed “Statue of Liberty” move in the ’02 Conference Finals.
If the Wings make an extended post-season run, you can add Howard and his breathless, maskless moments during the second period of last night’s Game 4 to the list.
It was the stuff that folks around here eat up.
Phoenix’s Keith Yandle ripped a shot that tore Howard’s mask from his noggin. The puck lay dangerously in front of the Red Wings’ crease. The game was a scoreless affair at that point, settling into what FSD’s Mickey Redmond said would be a contest where the team who scored first would likely win.
For a split second, we got to see what a goalie’s face looks like in the heat of battle, when the puck is loose and could be rapped behind him at any moment.
Howard looked like I imagined someone like him would look in that situation.
The FSD replay showed it: Jimmy Howard’s eyes got as wide as saucers. He looked at the loose puck as if it was a grenade whose pin had just been pulled.
It didn’t take a terribly creative mind to deduce that the words going through Howard’s mind at the time likely all had exactly four letters.
Howard sank to the ice, on his knees, mouth agape and with those saucer eyes. He was, for a split second, just like those 1950s and ’60s goalies in those priceless hockey photos—an era when the netminders, sans mask, put their anxiety on display on a nightly basis, courtesy their facial expressions.
Oh, _ _ _ _!!
Howard stopped the rebound, then smothered the vulcanized rubber disc with his trapper.
“I would have stopped it with my face if I had to,” he said afterward about the ensuing rebound.
His maskless face.
We love grit and toughness in Detroit, even from our goalies. Maybe especially from our goalies.
Mike Vernon could have been elected mayor after fighting Roy at center ice in that famous ’97 regular season game. Not to be outdone, Osgood rose to the same status the next year, also against Roy.
Howard made the fans giddy after roughing up Sidney Crosby at the final horn last month.
Now he’s stopping pucks bare-faced. He just called Vernon and Osgood and raised them one.
The beauty of it is that, even though the maskless play took just seconds to occur, you know that Howard would have remained bare-faced for as long as he had to and it wouldn’t have bothered him a lick.
“It didn’t faze me,” he said, with words as strong as garlic. “You don’t think; you react.”
This first round series with the Coyotes is 2-2, which is about where most people thought it would be after the first quartet of games. And Howard, frankly, has only been good in one of the four games so far.
But you can’t be more good than shutting the other guys out.
It was just one game in a first round series, but if the Red Wings move on and play into May, we might look back at Howard’s un-masking as a turning point in their playoff run.
No _ _ _ _.