He'd faced an opponent's best shots and hadn't flinched once, pitching a playoff shutout Thursday night in front of a sold-out home crowd at Joe Louis Arena.

Afterward, as reporters peppered Jimmy Howard with questions inside the Red Wings' dressing room, the goaltender deflected them all with ease, too. He talked about confidence, but steered clear of cockiness. He talked about making big stops, but saved most of his praise for his teammates. He talked about pushing the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks to the brink of elimination, but pulled back at the slightest hint of presumption.

Finally, someone in the crowd had Howard flustered. In the middle of his lengthy media session, a white-haired gentleman approached with a smile and an outstretched hand.

"Mr. Hockey," Howard said quietly, looking a bit startled as he greeted Hall of Famer Gordie Howe. "How are you? Nice to see you."

A moment later, and a bit sheepishly, Howard returned to answering questions, many of them about growing comfortable amid all the history and tradition — and pressure — that's a fact of life when you're playing hockey for the Red Wings. And particularly when you're the masked man in net.

As his coach, Mike Babcock, had explained earlier in the day, it's not just defending the goal in Detroit. It's about respecting all those who'd established the loftiest goal — Lord Stanley's Cup — as the standard.

Jimmy Howard is not a Hall of Famer.

He is not Terry Sawchuk or Dominik Hasek or even Chris Osgood, though after four full seasons as Detroit's No. 1 goaltender he sure sounds a lot like the latter, doesn't he? Self-assured and self-deprecating, soft-spoken yet defiant, sounding oblivious and completely aware all at once.

Jimmy Howard knows what he is, and what that means. And so do his teammates.