Kids unravel at times, which isn't an excuse, just a biological truism. So if the Red Wings truly plan to morph from understated upstart into big-game Duck-hunter, they need direction from the guys that know the way.

That means Johan Franzen, who's invigorated again, and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. It means Justin Abdelkader and Valtteri Filppula, who made the play of the night in the Red Wings' frantic 5-4 overtime victory over the Ducks in Game 2 Thursday.

And it especially means Jimmy Howard, who has to be better, preferably a lot better. With the Red Wings home for Game 3 tonight, it's back where it usually ends up, on Howard. He was half-stellar and half-poor Thursday night, when the Red Wings blew a 4-1 third-period lead before pulling it out on Gustav Nyquist's overtime winner off a great pass by Filppula.

The Red Wings have no choice but to grow up quickly, even more quickly with their best young defenseman, Danny DeKeyser, out for the playoffs with a broken thumb. Detroit fell apart in the final 12 minutes before recovering, but when the defense melted in front of him, Howard struggled to settle things down.

Howard must rebound because the Red Wings don't have the depth to wear opponents out, or to stymie Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for long. It's not always the goaltender's fault, and when the Red Wings used to be loaded, the goaltender could weather a rough patch. Not in this series, not with this team in transition.

At least two of Anaheim's goals were shots Howard should have stopped. If the Red Wings periodically get confused and rattled, Howard is the one who must stand firm, and it's vitally important he steadies himself at home, with the series 1-1.

"Howie's our guy, it's unbelievable how he's carried us all year," coach Mike Babcock said. "And he had a couple go through him that normally don't go through him, and then it's like a feeding frenzy. … I thought we were at times as frazzled as we've been in a long time. We've got lots of kids on our team, and they're not like veterans. It just takes time for them to figure it all out. They'll figure it all out. This will be a good thing."

Counting on Howard

It's an inevitable thing. The Red Wings gained confidence late in the season, but now everything accelerates. Rookie defenseman Brendan Smith talked before the playoffs about nerves and not knowing exactly what he'll face. He'll face even more — along with young Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff — with DeKeyser out for the rest of the postseason.