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Goaltender Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings sprays water in his face in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 16, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 7-4 to tie the series at 1-1. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Goaltender Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings sprays water in his face in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 16, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 7-4 to tie the series at 1-1. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Osgood helps Howard blossom Add to ...

They sat side-by-side in the Detroit Red Wings dressing room, the rookie and the not-so-grizzled veteran, both answering questions about the unique relationship they've forged over what's been a curious and winding season in Hockeytown, USA.

Jimmy Howard, for his part, gushed about what he had learned from Chris Osgood throughout his first full NHL season - the tips and moral support he'd received from the goalie who led the Wings to the Stanley Cup finals in the last two campaigns.

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"He's been a great help all year," said Howard, who is all but guaranteed to be one of three rookie-of-the-year nominees when they're announced on Thursday. "I can't really put into words how much he's helped me. I'm just thankful I have a teammate like that."

Having Osgood as a mentor this season has played a big part in Howard blossoming into a legitimate starter, but with the Red Wings reeling after a Game 3 loss and down 2-1 in their first-round series with the Phoenix Coyotes, much of the focus in Detroit has shifted to the crease.

Solid all year in a bit of a surprise showing after four years in the minors, Howard has struggled in his first taste of playoff action, allowing 11 goals through three games and getting an earful from the Joe Louis Arena faithful after a couple of untimely goals against at home.

"I'm surprised no one's at my front door with pitchforks and torches yet," Howard joked, attempting Monday to make light of a performance that left him in a sour mood after Sunday's game.

Osgood, a netminder who has allowed his fair share of groaners over his career, said he talked with his young protégé after the loss, telling him to simply forget the result and move on.

Those words helped, Howard said - just like they have all season.

Osgood, 37, explains that role as a way of passing along his knowledge and perhaps even transitioning into a coaching role. He said he had plenty of support from veteran goalies who had counselled him along the way.

"[Bob]Essensa, [Tim]Cheveldae, [Mike]Vernon, [Ken]Wregget, [Bill]Ranford - I had tons of guys I was fortunate to play with that did the same thing," Osgood said. "It helps a lot to just have a guy around like that.

"I don't want to say I'm a player-coach yet, but I enjoy working with Howie and telling him stuff and making a difference however I can. I know how much of a big deal it is to have a guy sitting beside you that's behind you and has been there and has done it before. It means a heck of a lot."

It's a role that didn't come easy at first. Osgood was getting the bulk of the starts - as planned - when the season began, but when he went down with the flu in mid-November, Howard stepped in and won three straight.

That was the beginning of a stellar 37-15-10 season that helped Detroit claim the fifth seed in the Western Conference and landed Howard the starter's job for good - a surprise ending after a salary-cap crunch had essentially left the 26-year-old youngster from Ogdensburg, N.Y., as one of Detroit's netminders by default last fall.

Osgood, meanwhile, has had to make peace with going from Detroit's No. 1 to the team's No. 1 cheerleader in such a short time frame. "When I wasn't playing early in the year, I was mad and I wanted to get in really bad," Osgood said. "You never accept not playing, but I think I've gotten to the point where I enjoy what I do."

With Tuesday's Game 4 approaching "must win" territory for the Wings, Howard admitted Monday he's leaning on Osgood as much as ever, hoping to channel his experience in similarly difficult situations.

"He's pretty much done it all in his career - if it hasn't happened to himself, he's seen it," Howard said. "I mean, it helps when I can bounce things off him and he's very truthful with telling me if I made the right play or not. Then he tells me what I should have done here and there - everything to make me better.

"I know I can play a lot better. I demand a lot from myself out there, I know I'm capable of doing the job. It's just going out there and doing it."

And if not, it may be time for Osgood to step in again.

 

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