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Wings content to carry 3 goalies in Howard’s return

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jimmy Howard is excited for the chance to start and the Red Wings are thrilled to have him.

Coach Mike Babcock reconfirmed Friday what has been known this entire week, that Howard will get the start Saturday against Winnipeg.

The minor surprise? Petr Mrazek will be the backup, remaining with the Red Wings at least one more game rather than being sent to Grand Rapids.

Jonas Gustavsson will stay the third goalie and be a healthy scratch.

General manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock both said the goaltending situation will be monitored day to day, but Mrazek will at least stay in Detroit for this game.

It’s unlikely Mrazek will sit at the NHL level and back up Howard rather than play regularly in the minor leagues where he can gain more experience.

“He (Mrazek) has to play for sure,” Babcock said. “But let’s just get our goaltending situation sorted out and then we’ll decide what we’re doing.”

Howard, though, will be excited to get his first start since tearing his groin in Washington Jan. 10. Howard did relieve Mrazek Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, playing the third period and stopping all four shots he faced.

“You can work out and practice as much as you want, but until you get in there and get a taste of the speed again, you sort of forget what it’s like,” said Howard, of his 20 minutes of action in Pittsburgh.

The way Mrazek played during the Red Wings’ 9-2 stretch without Howard allowed the team to solidify its playoff position and allowed Howard to rehabilitate at his own speed.

“I didn’t have to rush back,” Howard said. “I have to thank Pete for that. He did a tremendous job for the whole month and put us in a good spot.

“I just have to pick up where he left off.”

Howard (16-7-7, 2.09 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) was selected for the All-Star team a few hours before getting hurt in Washington, and was having one of his best seasons.

“Especially at the start of the year before we earned our confidence, Howie was our best player in those first 10 games,” Babcock said. “It’s important for him to get up and running and have him in net and feel good.

“We’ll be excited to have him.”