Detroit — Jimmy Howard had to work right up until the final horn in game No. 500 on Thursday night.
The veteran goaltender made save No. 40 on a clear shot by Thomas Chabot to close out his 238th career win, as the Red Wings topped league-worst Ottawa 3-2 at Little Caesars Arena behind two goals from Andreas Athanasiou.
“It’s just normal,” Howard said of making saves in the final seconds. “I guess I’ve played in so many — 500 of them — that you’ve been in that situation time and time again. You just pull on past experiences and just relax in there.”
Howard became the 71st netminder to reach 500, and his win total is third in franchise history behind Terry Sawchuk (350) and Chris Osgood (317).
“It’s so humbling,” Howard said. “Ozzie being one of my best friends and mentors. Seeing Terry above my stall every single day. It’s a constant reminder that every single day you’ve got to strive for excellence in here.”
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Howard should get credit for revamping his career after being relegated to the bench early in his 13-year career.
“I think probably his best attribute is his competitiveness and his fire,” Blashill said. “That’s where it’s really, really impressed me.”
Ottawa’s 42 shots were the most allowed by Detroit in 19 games, but Darren Helm made a takeaway and set up Frans Nielsen for the winner late in the second period, before Howard made it stand with 12 saves in the third.
After a recent 11-game scoreless streak, Athanasiou got back on the scoresheet Tuesday by tossing a backhand off Pekka Rinne’s shoulder, beating the frustrated Nashville goaltender for the winner in a 3-2 win.
“I was trying everything, and it’s kind of weird, sometimes a shot you don’t think is going in finds the back of the net,” Athanasiou said. “It just sets you free there a little bit.”
Thursday, he made plays with his usual weapon — his superior speed — becoming a 20-goal scorer for the first time in his fourth season.
“Some players look at as a good number, some look at it as a stepping stone to where they want to be,” Athanasiou said. “I don’t really try to put an exact number on where I want to be. I know I can produce a lot of opportunities and a lot of grade-A chances, so I try to get as many as I can because I know chances will be there.”
Athanasiou scored on a breakaway and then a penalty shot, becoming the NHL’s first player this season to net two penalty shots.
Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin assisted on the breakaway goal. Larkin has at least a point in nine of the last 11 games, a stretch in which he’s had six goals and seven assists.
Athanasiou’s penalty shot was the fourth taken by Detroit this season, the most of any team. Athanasiou’s two penalty-shot goals tie Detroit with Vancouver atop the NHL’s team lists. The 24-year-old drew the chance by getting behind the Ottawa defense for the second time in less than 7 minutes, both resulting in goals.
Ottawa (21-31-5) responded to both Athanasiou goals with equalizers.
Rookie Brady Tkachuk — who went fourth in the 2018 draft, two picks before the Red Wings selected Filip Zadina — scored his 13th of the season in the first, and Matt Duchene scored in the second, his 26th of the season, tying Mark Stone for the team lead.
But goaltender Anders Nilsson and the Ottawa defense, which came in tied for the league’s most road goals allowed this season, could not fend off the Red Wings (23-28-7).
Nielsen scored his ninth of the season to close the scoring at 17:00 in the second period. Helm made a steal in Ottawa’s zone and hit Nielsen for the one-timer as the 34-year-old went to a knee for the goal.
The Detroit win closed the season series even at 2-2.
Cheering Tkachuk in Detroit was his father, Keith, an 18-year pro. The two-time All-Star watched Brady, 19, get taken down by Detroit’s 34-year-old defenseman, Jonathan Ericsson, in a first-period fight behind Howard.
The Red Wings will travel to Philadelphia (26-24-7) for a game at 1 p.m. Saturday, the first of a home-and-home set that concludes at 6 p.m. Sunday in Detroit.
In addition Martin Frk, the Red Wings sent defenseman Dennis Cholowski to Grand Rapids on Thursday.
The rookie, who is a minus-20 in 52 games, should play Friday for the Griffins at home against San Antonio.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.