DETROIT – The Wings went right after backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson once free agency started this past offseason for a reason.
On Thursday night in San Jose, their investment in him finally started to pay off.
Gustavsson made 25 saves, in regulation and overtime, and then kept the Sharks scoreless in the shootout as Detroit skated away with the extra point after its 2-1 win.
“You play because you want to win, that’s the best feeling you can have,” Gustavsson said after the game. “I’m really happy with the win and how the guys performed. They helped me a lot, they made it easier for me.”
The start was Gustavsson’s first with the Wings and just his third appearance all season.
“I felt pretty good,” Gustavsson said. “Of course, it was a while since I played at this level. The guys made it easier for me. I could see most of the shots. I don’t think they had a scoring chance on a rebound.”
After taking over for Jimmy Howard in the season opener in St. Louis, Gustavsson re-aggravated his groin and didn’t dress the next 13 games.
Gustavsson’s next appearance came in relief of Jimmy Howard in Nashville and led the Wings to an overtime loss.
However, last Sunday Gustavsson, who signed a two-year deal worth $1.5 million a season, suffered a minor setback with his groin and couldn’t backup Howard in a win against the Vancouver Canucks.
“Of course that’s probably not the best situation but that’s the way it is,” Gustavsson said when asked if it’s tough to join a new team and begin things injured. “Through your career you’re going to have different challenges. You’ve just got to find a way to handle them and stay positive. For me that (injury) is in the past and I’m just trying to look forward to the game tonight.”
Howard has started all but two games this season.
“Obviously it wouldn’t hurt to see him play and I think it’s important that you’re starting goalie doesn’t have to play every night,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The other thing about it is it’s a real good opportunity for him. We need a win on the road and he’s capable of doing that so get in there and play like you can.”
Prior to Thursday, Gustavsson had played just over 68 minutes this season.
“He hasn’t played,” Babcock said. “When you’ve been here this much time and you’re injured all the time it’s probably hard on you mentally as well. What I liked about him is he earned himself more time in net. The other thing is it never hurts to have competition and people pushing each other. The season’s a grind.
“Howie needs a breather every once in a while,” Babcock added. “Howie will go against Chicago and Gus will be ready to go right away.”
Gustavsson has had his fair share of health concerns, more specifically relating to his heart.
His heart issues were first noticed on the first day of training camp his first season in Toronto. An ablation surgery process needed to be performed on his heart.
In 2009, he had a heart murmur, which led to a second ablation surgery.
In 2011, he was pulled from a conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies due to an accelerated heart beat and two days later he had a third minor heart ablation surgery.
“I’ve been feeling good, shouldn’t be any problems,” Gustavsson said. “I feel ready to go.
Gustavsson played his first three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he went 39-45-8 and had a 2.98 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
The Leafs traded his rights to the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013 prior to the draft.
The two-year deal gives the Wings a bit of an insurance policy if they have trouble signing Howard, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason if a new deal isn’t reached. Howard will make $2.25 million this season.