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Wings hold off Canucks 3-1; Howard excellent

The plan, as it was, was to have Jimmy Howard play in Columbus on Wednesday night, then give Chris Osgood the start at home the next night against the Vancouver Canucks.

But when Osgood came down with the flu today, head coach Mike Babcock had to go with Howard in net again tonight for the first time in his young NHL career. Coming the night after an 9-1 beating of the Blue Jackets, Howard had plenty of excuses if he didn't play well.

Instead, Howard turned in an excellent performance, earning the first star of the game with 31 saves and even his first NHL assist. Henrik Zetterberg scored his fifth goal of the year and added an assist as Detroit beat Vancouver 3-1.

It was the kind of performance that can be a milestone in a goaltender's career.

In a first period that saw the Canucks outshoot the Red Wings 15-5, it was Howard who kept the Wings in it, until Tomas Holmstrom scored his team-leading ninth of the season on the power play off a setup from Zetterberg while being cross-checked by Willie Mitchell .The shot was so hard it bounced off the back bar of the net, and before anyone could confirm what happened, Holmstrom managed to put the puck back into the net.

The first period also saw the second fight for Brad May in two nights, as he squared off with Rick Rypien. Both landed haymakers, but May wound up with his jersey over his head, effectively ending the fight. 

In the second period, just 10 seconds after Justin Abdelkader went to the box on a high-sticking penalty, a Kevin Bieska shot hit Mason Raymond's skate, then deflected off Brad Stuart (who was tangled up with Raymond), and Howard was handcuffed by it, tying the game. It was Raymond's eight goal of the season, with an addiitional assist to Ryan Kesler.

With eight minutes elapsed in the third period, Brad Stuart's beautiful up-ice pass landed right on the stick of Zetterberg's stick. With a flick of the wrist, he fired off a 15-footer that easily bested Roberto Luongo to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead.

From that point, the game took on a playoff-intensity, as the Wings were holding off Vancouver's charging offense, and Howard stood on his head. With Luongo pulled for an extra attacker, Howard slid the puck to his left to Niklas Kronwall, who shot a knuckler off the boards to clear the zone and allow him to leave the ice. But the puck just kept going, slowly bouncing on its edges until it crossed the goal line to give Kronwall his fifth goal of the season and Howard his first NHL point.

The Red Wings return to the ice Saturday night to face the Anaheim Ducks.

Player of the game: Jimmy Howard. On a night he was supposed to be keeping stats, he was playing like a solid NHL starting goaltender.

Catch the highlights below: