Tampa, Fla. — Jimmy Howard, whose strong play in recent games has lifted the prospects of the Red Wings in the nip-and-tuck playoff race, will start against the Lightning Tuesday night with Petr Mrazek still not fully recovered from a nasty flu bug.
Howard kept the Wings in the game against the Panthers long enough for Detroit to forge a comeback last weekend after limiting the Blue Jackets to a late goal on 28 shots March 17.
In his last five games, beginning Feb. 21 against the Rangers, Howard has a 2.06 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
Mrazek’s absence underlines the assertions of Jeff Blashill that the Red Wings would need both goaltenders down the stretch.
“We’ve talked all year long about that fact, and that we think we have two guys who’ve proven they can do a real good job in this league,” Blashill said after practice Monday at Amalie Arena. “And Jimmy’s got lots of confidence in himself, and we’ve got confidence in him.
“He stepped in and I thought did a good job both last game and in Columbus.
“We’d like to get more time with Petr, practicing. And that’s why it’s real critical that we have two guys that can play.”
Mrazek feeling better
It is no fun sitting out games and around a hotel in partly sunny, 80 degree-plus Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a high fever. But it was Mrazek’s fate for three days.
Mrazek knew his temperature in Celsius, which is how they measure it in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where he grew up.
“I don’t know how you guys do that,” he said, smiling. “But it was around 39.5 Celsius.”
That is 103.1, Fahrenheit.
“I felt so cold,” he said. “It was like 80 degrees and I felt like it was 20.
“It was tough. I had a rough two or three days that I couldn’t do anything.”
The 24-year-old said he began to feel better quickly.
“I feel physically well, just a little tough on the ice at the beginning when you don’t skate for a while and you’ve had a fever,” Mrazek said.
“I’m glad. For the first time I skated better and felt pretty good.”
Some good news about Mrazek’s illness is he said he was able to eat, which should ease his return to the lineup. He is now feeling well enough to back up Howard, so the Red Wings returned Jared Coreau to Grand Rapids.
Teammates being teammates, Mrazek is taking some ribbing, despite the lousy circumstances on the five-day Florida swing, which featured a day off Sunday.
After beginning to joke around with Justin Abdelkader near the dressing room, Abdelkader mounted a sarcastic interrogation: “Hey, what’s up with you? Are you back from vacation yet? Are you finally going to play?”
Getting to the net
Blashill and players attribute the sudden offensive flurry against the Panthers, four goals in 20 minutes 11 seconds to end the game, to getting to the net behind the defenders and, in Abdelkader’s description, “owning the crease.”
It is no surprise they consider it a key to beating the Lightning, especially because their regular starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, is 6-foot-7.
“I think it’s key against every goalie in the NHL, to be honest with you,” Blashill said. “Those are probably goals we haven’t scored enough of.”
In two games against the Blue Jackets and Panthers, the Wings had five goals that resulted from players immediately in front of the net.
Against the Lightning, Blashill said, “We’re going to have to have great net presence and make sure we get pucks to the net.”
Rest is an important consideration for the players, and they were happy for it Sunday.
“I relaxed and enjoyed the weather,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I didn’t do that much except to just walk around and relax for the day.
“I think you take all the rest you can get, here, now. It’s huge.”
Blashill said it helps, especially with the mental fatigue.
“I think it’s mental rest at this time of year,” he said. “I think certainly physical rest matters, but mental rest is a big thing, too. It rejuvenates you, especially in warmer climates.”
Blashill admitted he spent a chunk of the day watching a recording of the Panthers game.
“I watched out game, again,” he said. “But I watched our game and I could listen to the ocean waves. So, that’s a lot better than watching your game and watching the snow fly.”
Red Wings at Lightning
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.
Outlook: The Lightning is 4-3-1 in March; the Wings are 4-5. ... The Wings are 2-1 against the Lightning. ... Lightning G Ben Bishop has allowed two or fewer goals in 36 of 53 starts.