If the Red Wings and Predators match up in the first round of the NHL playoffs, Jimmy Howard welcomes the challenge.

His colleague Pekka Rinne in Nashville won Friday night's game for his teammates, thwarting the Wings on 31 attempts to hand Detroit a 4-1 loss at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings fell to fifth place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Predators.

Much had been made of the game being a playoff preview, as the Wings and Predators have been sliding back and forth in fourth and fifth place for a while. Coach Mike Babcock said it early in the week, Henrik Zetterberg the day before, Howard the morning of. Even after just losing, Howard smiled as he spoke of the possibility.

"I think it's going to be a great matchup," he said. "It's going to be back and forth and be tight. It'll probably come down to goaltending, whose goalie is better, and you know, I'll definitely enjoy that."

Howard made 23 saves, but in fairness, it was his first game back after being sidelined by an aggravated groin injury. He did well, overall, as did his teammates.

"The score wasn't flattering for us," Babcock said. "I thought we did lots of good things, though. It was kind of like the game I expected. I didn't think there was going to be much room for either team, and I didn't think there was."

The loss left a far different feeling than Wednesday's 4-2 disaster at Columbus.

The Wings took positives away from Friday's game, especially considering how many guys they've only just gotten back from injuries, guys who are still getting their game legs back. Rinne really mad the difference, like when Zetterberg had a glorious chance gloved in the second period.