Detroit Red Wings left wing Brad May (24) fights with Vancouver Canucks center Rick Rypien (37) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Carlos Osorio)
DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings are counting on Jimmy Howard to be their backup goalie.
So far, so good. Howard made 31 saves, Henrik Zetterberg scored the go-ahead goal in the third period and Detroit beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 on Thursday night.
"I think everybody in this dressing room believes I can do it," Howard said. "I just have to keep doing it consistently."
Howard won on consecutive nights in the NHL for the first time since Detroit drafted the goalie from Ogdensburg, N.Y., in the second round of the 2003 draft.
"He really battled and made big plays," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "That's a real good sign for us."
Howard played in a 9-1 win Tuesday night at Columbus to give Chris Osgood a break, then was back on the ice the next night because Osgood was feeling ill.
"In a tight game, you got to come up with the big saves at the right moment and he did," Detroit defenceman Nicklas said. "In the third period, he made some key saves."
Roberto Luongo did not blame himself for not stopping the shot that put Detroit ahead for good.
Zetterberg took a long pass from Brad Stuart, slipped past the defence and lifted a backhander over Luongo's left shoulder for his team-leading 17th point.
"Tried to follow it," Luongo said. "He went from forehand to backhand and then put in right under the crossbar. Not a lot of guys can do that, only a few around the league."
Luongo made 26 saves in his first start since facing Detroit on Oct. 27 when he aggravated a broken rib.
"I felt like my timing was good and I was able to read the play," he said.
Niklas Kronwall scored an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Tomas Holmstrom gave Detroit a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Vancouver's Mason Raymond tied it in the second.
Detroit won its third consecutive home game and is 5-1 after a slow start to pull within a point of the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks.
"We aren't winning games in the same fashion that we used to, that's pretty obvious," Babcock said. "But we are finding ways to grind games out and that's what we have to do."
The Red Wings lost players in the summer who combined to score 88 goals last season, including Mikael Samuelsson, who signed with the Canucks.
"They played like last year and the year before that," Samuelsson said. "I don't really see a difference."
The Canucks have lost three in row and close a five-game road trip Saturday at Colorado.
Vancouver outplayed the Red Wings for much of the game, but left Joe Louis Arena without a point.
"We played a good road game," Luongo said. "Unfortunately, we don't have much to show for it."
The Canucks outshot Detroit 15-5 in the first period and after an evenly played second period, it controlled the action in the third until Zetterberg scored at the eight-minute mark.
"We had a lot of chances, just couldn't bury them," Henrik Sedin said. "(Howard) made some big saves."
Notes: Steve Yzerman dropped the ceremonial first puck in a pre-game ceremony that honoured him for being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night. ... Vancouver's Jannik Hansen played for the first time this season, returning from a hand injury. ... Drew Miller made his Detroit debut, a day after being claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. He filled in for Kirk Maltby, who was feeling ill. ... Howard earned his second career victory Oct. 27 at Vancouver, where he made 20 saves after Osgood was pulled. ... Holmstrom has nine goals in 17 games after scoring just 14 times last season, when he was slowed by injuries.