Jimmy Howard is Detroit Red Wings’ X factor

Detroit Red Wings

Jimmy Howard was spectacular in the Red Wings’ 1-0 victory over the Bruins

Thanks in part to a magnificent third-period goal by Pavel Datsyuk, the Detroit Red Wings were able to claim a 1-0 series lead over the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With all the talk surrounding Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask heading into the series, Jimmy Howard’s game-one performance reminded the world that Rask isn’t the only experienced goalie in this matchup.

Each net minder produced a flurry of highlight-reel saves in the series opener, but it was Howard who had the last laugh as the final buzzer sounded.

Just as Isportsweb’s Alex Eisen pointed out in his first round preview, goalies can single-handedly win (or lose) playoff games.

Fair or unfair, the Red Wings’ playoff fate is in the hands of Jimmy Howard.

Pivotal goaltending was arguably the strongest asset of each of the last three Stanley Cup Champions (’13 Chicago Blackhawks, ’12 Los Angeles Kings, ’11 Boston Bruins).

The three goalies (Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick, and Tim Thomas, respectively) combined for a save percentage of .939, goals against average of 1.74, and eight shutouts in their teams’ quest for the Stanley Cup. They also combined for a 20-9 record in one-goal games.

Quick and Thomas were both awarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the entire playoffs.

Another great example of how a goalie can carry their team throughout the playoffs can be seen in Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

In 2003, Giguere was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy even though his team (previously known as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) was defeated in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Giguere carried the Mighty Ducks to a 15-6 playoff record, posting a .945 save percentage, a goals against average of 1.62, and recording five shutouts.

So, is pivotal goaltending the common theme behind recent Stanley Cup Champions? It would be difficult to argue against that.

Now the remaining question is, can Howard be the guy to bring these Red Wings to the promise land?

For the first time in my life, I believe so.

Just a year ago, Detroit was one overtime-goal short of defeating the eventual Stanley Cup Champions and Howard arguably had the best postseason of his career.

Howard has had his best stretch of the seasonĀ over the last month, including game one, posting a 8-3-1 record, a .912 save percentage, and a 2.50 goals against average.

Possibly the most shocking (and impressive) attribute of Howard’s game-one shutout was his ability and aggressiveness in handling the puck.

It’s a rare occurrence for Howard to make a clearing attempt against the boards or come out of the net to make a pass, but the Red Wings goalie didn’t hesitate to make those plays in game one.

Detroit’s offense isn’t overpowering and the defense’s play alone isn’t strong enough to carry the team.

If the Red Wings are to have success against the Bruins, as well as the entire playoffs, Jimmy Howard will be called upon to single-handedly win games, from time to time.

The Bruins and Red Wings will play game two at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

As the playoffs continue, check out our Detroit Red Wings team page for more news, rumors, and opinion.

Follow us on Twitter @isportsweb