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Detroit — In Petr Mrazek's mind, there's no doubt: Jimmy Howard is the No. 1 goalie and Mrazek is backing Howard up.

But there's no doubt Mrazek embraces the challenge of starting Saturday against Tampa Bay, as Howard sits after two bad games.

"I know Howie is the No. 1, he's proven himself for so many years," said Mrazek, who might have an opportunity to swipe the starting job heading into the playoffs with only nine games left in the regular season. "This year, he's been great. Sometimes nothing hits you and everything goes in. It's (who is the starter) nothing we should talk about.

"Howie is No. 1 and it should be Howie."

When asked if he'd be comfortable with Mrazek going into the playoffs, Mike Babcock sounded like a coach who wants someone to take control of the goaltending position.,

"I like winning," Babocck said. "That's it. It's real simple. Everybody in the NHL knows the best guys get to play and if you're playing the best you get to play. Our players know that starting each game. It's no differnet.

"Anytime you're struggling as a player, it's your job to work extra hard. When you get an opportunity, you have to seize your opportunity. It's no different for Petr Mrazek. He gets an opportunity, he has to seize it."

As for facing the Lightning, who trail the Canadiens by one point for the Atlantic Division lead and defeated Mrazek and the Red Wings, 3-1, on March 20?

"It's a big challenge," Mrazek said. "We've lost two games in a row at home. It's just one game tomorrow and we have to go game by game and see what happens."

Howard went over video with goaltending coach Jim Bedard and believes he's had issues following the puck.

Howard feels this is a "hiccup" that will be fixed and it's a challenge he's looking forward to.

"It's no different than anyone else in the NHL," Howard said. "Every person goes through something like this during the course of a season. I'm just glad it's happening now rather than two or three weeks from now."

Injuries grow

Already without Pavel Datsyuk (lower body) and Erik Cole (upper body), the Red Wings have lost Riley Sheahan (upper body), it appears, for at least the next two games.

Sheahan didn't practice Friday.

"He got bumped (in the San Jose loss Thursday)," Babcock said. "He's out. I don't' know for how long. He's out with an upper body.

"Obviously it's an opportunity for someone else. There's no sense talking about guys who aren't here. Let's talk about the guys who are here."

Datsyuk increased his work load in practice from earlier in the week, but Babcock said, "I don't know" whether Datsyuk will play against the Lightning.

Cole didn't practice and will not play these next two games.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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