Jimmy Howard could only look on from the bench at the United Center. There probably wasn’t much he could say as Conklin picked up his second win of the season and gave Howard a well-deserved night off.
After the Detroit Red Wings got down 2-1 to their division rival Chicago Blackhawks in a game with some definite intra-divisional implications. In a poor shift by the Wings, the Hawks almost took a 3-1 advantage but Tomas Holmstrom grabbed the puck in the crease, which, at the time, looked like a terrible play.
Up stepped Hawks rookie Jimmy Hayes, who was given the penalty shot chance in just his fifth career NHL game. The kid looked top corner glove side, but was robbed by the backup Conklin, who was making just his sixth start of the season. After turning away a potentially back-breaking goal, Conklin was huge down the stretch for the Wings, who were coming off a disappointing 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maples Leafs just the night before.
Conklin made several big saves, including one lying on his back. With under five minutes left, Henrik Zetterberg scored to the game at 2-2, which ended regulation and headed the game to overtime.
Conklin, who made 29 saves for the win, was the first player by the team after Pavel Datsyuk rifled home a rebound for the win with just under two minutes remaining in the extra frame. The Wings mauled, not Datsyuk, but their netminder, who saved the game on more than one occassion.
The win was a big one for the Wings, who pulled into a three-way tie for first place with the Hawks and the St. Louis Blues in the tight Central Division. Once the joke division of the league, the Central is turning into the toughest division and should finish as the tightest race.
I enjoy watching a guy like Conklin have a night like this. This guy is the true definition of an NHL journey man. The guy has spent parts of nine seasons bouncing between the NHL and the American League, never complaining about lack of playing time or demotions. He’s played for six teams, including two stints with the Red Wings, and has posted solid numbers for a backup who has never had more than 40 appearances in a season.
For the Wings, getting more performances like this out of Conklin is key to them making a long playoff run. The more rest for Jimmy Howard, the better.