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Jeff Riger: Do You Trust Jimmy Howard?

By: Jeff Riger

Jimmy Howard has been a whipping boy for Detroit sports fans for several years now. It didn't take long for the excitement to wear off, for a guy that many believed early on would be the Wings next great goalie when he finally made his way into the NHL. Hell, despite winning multiple playoff games and multiple games 7's too, fans still don't trust the net minder that in their eyes makes way too much money.

And I hear ya...

There are the rebounds he allows that will drive you nuts along with the occasional blowups that make you wonder how he even got in the league to begin with? Lets not forget about the massive belief among fans that he's incapable of stealing a playoff game much less an entire series. Fans don't trust James Howard and I don't blame them one bit.

But things are different now! You have no choice, not only to trust in Howard but to root for him as well. He's the only chance the Wings have if they want to make it into the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season. Howard has won 3 of the last 4 games he's played in and has allowed a total of just 8 goals. He's played in back to back contests recently when the Wings beat the Wild and Leafs and he's emerged as the number one net minder once again as Petr Mrazek has hit a wall. This team needs Howard whether you like it or not.

This scenario didn't seem possible just months ago. It wasn't that long ago when Howard went 0-5-4 in an 11 game stretch where he allowed 32 goals over the span of 11 games. Howard was pulled numerous times, his confidence was shot and fans prayed that general manager Ken Holland would somehow be able to deal him away because of his enormous contract at the trade deadline. Howard was an after thought, a laughing-stock, a punching bag and it probably didn't help him that his colleague, Mrazek was putting up Vezina Trophy type numbers in the month of January while Jimmy was figuring out how to be a backup for the first time in his career.

In fact, Howard struggled so bad that I believe head coach Jeff Blashill was gun-shy in deciding to go back to him even after it was more than apparent that Mrazek had lost it and could not help the team.

Wednesday, Detroit embarks on the final 3 games of the regular season and it will be Howard that will be counted on to get this team back to the postseason. Tonight it's the surging Flyers who are tied with the Wings in points and tomorrow it will be the struggling Bruins in Boston who conveniently enough are also tied with Detroit in points. 3 teams want to occupy 2 playoff spots and it will all be decided before the weekend is up.

The Wings have annoyed and frustrated this season but they still have a chance to make it in and accomplish every goal they established at the start of the year. If Detroit finishes in the third spot in the Atlantic division they'll get to play the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs and that series all of a sudden looks more winnable with multiple injuries to Tampa including that Steven Stamkos will miss 1 to 3 months with a blood clot. If Detroit secures the last wild card spot in the Eastern conference they'll play the President trophy winning Washington Capitals who have a tendency to choke a bit once those playoff lights shine bright. Bottom line, there is still a lot of hockey to be played and the Wings are playing better.

There is an ongoing belief that maybe missing the playoffs would be good for this team, I couldn't disagree more! People think if the Wings are sitting home come the middle of April that the organization and general manager Ken Holland will get more serious about winning. I'm not buying that either. Holland hasn't been good enough recently but how would missing the second season change that? The plain and simple truth is making the playoffs is good for the team, the city and the fans. The playoffs would allow players like Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou to get much-needed experience and stop me if you've heard this one before, but it is hockey and anything can happen. Plus wouldn't you miss playoff hockey if Detroit wasn't participating? I know I would!

I'm not convinced this team is headed anywhere special, nor am I convinced that Howard is the guy to take them there however there doesn't appear to be another option. So as painful and scary as it might be to say, the season, the streak and everything that goes along with it is now in the hands of Howard. Will he come through? I have no idea, but I'll be rooting for him.

Of course a good defensive effort and some timely goals would help too!

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