Buffalo, N.Y. — One of the things the Red Wings could use most in their push for a playoff spot is superior goaltending.
Jimmy Howard provided it most of this season but has been, and will continue to be for a few weeks, unavailable because of a sprained knee.
Petr Mrazek provided it last season — but not as much this season.
But, maybe, Mrazek is beginning to resemble the goaltender he was around this time last year.
Mrazek’s performance in Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Buffalo was another hopeful sign.
The only reason the Red Wings were even in position to at least get a crucial point in the standings was because of Mrazek’s big-time saves throughout the game.
“He was good,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “He played real well. He saved us a few times.”
Mrazek stopped 34 shots total, 27 in the first two periods, and basically carried over a good relief effort from Wednesday’s shootout win against Boston.
Mrazek relieved Jared Coreau in the first period and stifled the Bruins except for two deflected goals in the wild, 6-5 shootout victory.
“He’s trending in the right direction,” said coach Jeff Blashill of Mrazek. “For a number of games, even games where he’s given up more goals than he wants to or we want him to, he’s still played real well and looks like he’s on top of his game.
“He has a swagger on top of his crease.”
Blashill named Mrazek the No. 1 goalie before the regular season began. But Mrazek’s inconsistency and Howard’s spectacular play somewhat flip-flopped who was No. 1 and No. 2.
Coreau’s sparkling play last week, helping the Red Wings to crucial home victories over Pittsburgh and Montreal, kept Mrazek on the bench.
But Mrazek feels when he has been in net recently, the end results haven’t coincided with the way he’s played.
“If you look at the last five or six games, I got better overall,” Mrazek said. “I just have to keep getting better.
“I just try to stay positive and work hard and those pucks will hit me one day (instead of going into the net), I hope.”
Mrazek is hoping to generate traction and string together winning performances.
“You try to give your (team) a chance to win,” Mrazek said. “You have to keep going and working hard and trying to build every game, build confidence and play the best you can.”
Mrazek will likely get the call Sunday when the Red Wings host the New York Rangers (12:30 p.m./Channel 4).
Matched up against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, one of the elite goaltenders in the world, it’ll be a good sign of where Mrazek’s game is currently.
“You’re trying to build every game,” Mrazek said. “Play the best you can.”
Rangers at Red Wings
Faceoff: 12:30 p.m., Sunday, Joe Louis Arena
TV/radio: NBC Channel 4/97.1 FM.
Outlook: The Rangers (29-16-1, 59 points) started fast this season and have shown no signs of slowing … What’s scary is, G Henrik Lundqvist (19-12-1, .902 save-percentage) has only recently begun to play at his elite level.