Or, perhaps a better (but longer) question may be: Is it possible for Howard to play just good enough for Detroit to win in game 7, but bad enough to put doubts in the minds of his teammates?
Despite allowing 5 more goals to an incredibly weak Phoenix offense, it would be shocking to see Detroit change direction going into game 7. After all, it was largely Howard's play down the stretch that granted them a playoff spot to begin with. To sit Howard at this point would be a potentially crushing blow to the goalie's confidence. Haven't they messed with the poor kid enough over the past 4 years?
However, there can be no denying that the story has changed since the playoffs began. His 2.86 GAA in the postseason is a far cry from the 2.26 GAA he posted in the regular season. He has allowed several questionable goals, and he's obviously fighting the puck at times.
But let's not forget who it is that is waiting in the wings for yet another shot at redemption. Despite the criticism and constant doubters, Osgood is a proven Hall-of-Fame worthy goaltender, particularly come playoff time. Had the Redwings scored 2 more goals in game 7 last year, he would have been a fine choice to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. So, if Detroit sticks around long enough, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see #30 back in crease. So other than an injury to Howard, what will it require to make that happen?
Despite allowing four or more goals in half the games so far, Howard hasn't been horrible enough to be pulled. Unless you consider who he is facing. Had he put up these numbers against Chicago or San Jose, than you could shrug it off and continue to have faith in the rookie. But these are the Phoenix Coyotes that are making him look vulnerable. Imagine what will happen in round 2 and beyond when he starts to face teams who can bring 2 or 3 all star threats. Can Detroit afford mediocre goaltending against the likes of Hawks, Sharks, or Canucks?
Assuming Detroit can get by Phoenix in game 7, the start of a new round would be an opportune time to make a switch, if the team is starting to have doubts in their goaltending. So is there a magic number we should look for in game 7 that would merit such a change? I would propose the number 4. If Howard surrenders another 4 goals to the Coyotes, it's time to go back to the well and give Osgood a go. Otherwise, expect to Wings to ride Howard for the first few games of Round 2, and see how it goes from there.
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