Normally, one playoff series doesn't define a team or validate a plan. But this isn't a normal season, and the Red Wings just won their most important series in years.

Now comes the chance to accelerate the process even more, with a second-round collision against the Blackhawks. And while numerous Wings punched important stamps in ousting the Ducks, one guy is eager to do more.

Jimmy Howard was perfectly solid as Detroit captured four one-goal victories, three in overtime. In the 3-2 clincher in Game 7, he outplayed his opponent, and will have to do the same against Chicago's hot Corey Crawford. Howard didn't steal the Anaheim series but was very good, and at times great. He isn't satisfied, not even close, reflecting the rising Red Wings hunger for more.

"I still think I can be better for the guys," Howard said. "It seems like whenever we get our backs against the ropes, that's when we play our best. We had to fight and claw the last week of the season just to get into the playoffs. It says a lot about our team. It's gonna be a lot of fun in the next series."

Howard's eyes glinted as he spoke, and he knows what it means to face the deep and talented Blackhawks. They swarm, essentially daring a goalie to beat them, which presents a huge challenge and huge possible reward.

"Being around when I was a black ace (a Red Wings reserve), I've been sort of waiting for this opportunity to play a playoff series in the United Center," Howard said of the Chicago arena. "It was so much fun watching the guys play in that building. I'm finally thankful I get a chance to be part of this rivalry."

This is a shot at a signature moment against a signature opponent before the Wings head to the Eastern Conference next season. Since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to Pittsburgh in 2009, Detroit has won three playoff series and lost three. Nothing has stood out, until now.