Blackhawks have to throw Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard off his game

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The Chicago Blackhawks want to make life more miserable for Jimmy Howard.

If they don’t, then they’re the ones who’ll be wallowing in misery for the rest of the summer.

The Detroit Red Wings goaltender has been outstanding so far in the NHL Western Conference semifinal, frustrating the Blackhawks snipers, who have only two goals in their last three games.

With the Red Wings up 3-1 in the series heading into Game 5 Saturday at the United Center, the Blackhawks have to figure out a way to get past Howard to keep their season alive.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “We’ve been getting in front of him, we’ve been shooting from all over the place, and we’re going to keep doing that, even more so.

“We know that we have a lot of talent, top to bottom, on this team and that anybody can score goals. Whoever it is, we want guys to step up. It’s playoff hockey and we’re looking for some big goals (Saturday) night, that’s what it’s going to take to win. He’s one of those key guys that we want to be really tough on. We have to keep doing that.”

Howard has been giving the Blackhawks fits all series. Even in the opening game the Blackhawks won, Howard held them off single-handily before they were able to break through midway through the third period.

Since then, the Blackhawks have been unable to get to the fifth-year goaltender, who’s been a key ingredient in the Red Wings success so far this post season.

“I think we have a lot of shots in these game, but maybe we have to go to the front of the net more and try to have a good screen on him and make sure he doesn’t see the puck,” said Blackhawks winger Michael Frolik. “We can be better at that, we haven’t scored many goals. It’s hard, he’s been playing unbelievable, but we have to be better.”

In Thursday’s 2-0 victory, Howard was kept busy early, turning away 14 shots in the first period. However, once they took the lead, the Red Wings did a good job defensively and limited the Blackhawks to 14 shots through the final two periods.

Regardless, Howard still needed to come up with a handful of outstanding saves, his best coming against Dave Bolland in the third period, sprawling across to get a piece of his effort in front.

Howard also did get some help behind him as the Blackhawks hit a pair of goalposts.

“I think the bounces really haven’t gone our way, but we still have to be better,” said Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad, who’s still looking for his first goal of the playoffs. “We’re getting some chances, we’re hitting some posts, but we still can be better as a team, try to create more chances, get in front of him, take away his eyes. They have a good team defensively they have a good goaltender and we have to find a way to beat him.”

Part of the strategy heading into their must-win encounter Saturday will be to get more traffic in front of Howard.

The Blackhawks have not done a good job of battling for position in front of the Red Wings net, allowing Howard to see most of the shots he’s facing.

There have been few second-chance opportunities in the three consecutive games the Blackhawks have lost in the series.

“With goaltenders these days, there are a lot of good goaltenders left in the playoffs, and that’s what it’s all about,” Saad said. “You watch other series, you have to get those ugly goals, get in front of him and bang in some rebounds.”

Thursday was the first time all season the Blackhawks had been shutout. It also marked the first time the team dropped three consecutive games this season.

“We’ve had some quality chances, we’d like to have more quality with traffic,” said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. “He’s been challenging. I still think we’re getting some decent looks, but I think more traffic will make it more of a challenge for him.”