Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard made 23 saves Friday night as he played for the first time since aggravating a groin injury.

He was screened on the first goal by the Predators, who beat the Wings, 4-1, at Joe Louis Arena. He lost the puck in a mad scramble in front of the net on the second and was victimized by poor defensive zone coverage on the third. The fourth was an empty-netter.

Coach Mike Babcock originally wasn't going to play Howard against Nashville, figuring he'd rather ease Howard back. But with the playoffs only a week away and the Wings having played poorly Wednesday at Columbus, Howard got the nod.

For him, it was an important step in his comeback. Since early February, he has battled a broken finger and a sore groin that flared up two weeks ago.

"On the West Coast, I felt like everything was happening in waves, and I felt like there were 10 guys out there," Howard said. "Tonight, everything was pretty much back to normal."

Howard had a strong start as he held the Predators at bay on a power play. Gabriel Bourque and Francis Bouillon scored in the second period.