The two teams that were playing in Detroit tonight entered the game with two very different goals in mind. One team wanted to continue building on all the good things that happened to it since the playoffs began. The other team came in frustrated, but desperate, with just one mission-- to survive to live another game. In the end, a more desperate team prevailed, as the Red Wings shocked the once confident Sharks team in a one-sided 7-1 victory.
Nothing in the first five minutes of the game indicated that the game would be so lopsided. In fact, the Sharks dominated that stretch. Early on Detroit got penalized for too-many-men on the ice and the Sharks answered with four shots on that power play, with nothing but Howard preventing the first goal in the game. As the penalty expired, the Sharks continued to pressure on the forecheck, and a turnover in the neutral zone resulted in a 2-on-1 breakaway with Logan Couture carrying the puck into the zone and Torrey Mitchell on his side. Couture decided to do what we've seen the Sharks do most of the time in these situations during the playoffs-- take a shot on the net. In hindsight this might have been a good opportunity to pass, as Mitchell was wide open. Howard caught the shot by Couture, and the score remained tied at 0-0.
The first trouble came as Dwight Helminen took the tripping penalty off the faceoff, putting the Red Wings on their first power play of the game. With Todd Bertuzzi effectively screening Evgeni Nabokov, Johan Franzen shot from the blue line, and the first of many pucks entered the Sharks goal (Franzen would end the night with 6 points-- 4 goals and 2 assists). Huskins stood nearby and frankly, I'm not sure why or who he was covering because he made no attempt to even touch Bertuzzi or his stick.
And then all hell broke lose.
The Red Wings attacks kept coming one after another. They were winning most of the faceoffs, they kept taking the pucks away in the neutral zone, and they took advantage of every miscommunication or error generated by the Sharks who were on the ice at the time. The worst part-- every scoring chance Detroit generated resulted in a goal. Five minutes later the scoreboard indicated 4-0, with Franzen scoring the second fastest hat trick in Stanley Cup playoffs history.
A quick goal by San Jose might have changed the mood on the ice, but it did not happen. Instead, Detroit scored again and the team left to their locker room with score of 5-0 in favor of the home team. In the players minds, and in our own, Game 5 was over. The remainder of the game saw Thomas Greiss getting some good practice time, a few scraps, and a whooping 23 penalties called. Both teams knew that the series will have to continue in San Jose on Saturday.
It just may be that the Sharks needed this kind of loss. One of the concerns that many of us had about sweeping Detroit in a four game series was that the team might get into the Western Conference final with too much confidence. They would have too much rest before playoffs resume next week, and perhaps the coaches would feel that they would not need to change anything, because the Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season.
This loss puts these notions out of the window. The training staff has to go back to the drawing board and reanalyze what went wrong in the Game 4. The players have to refocus, as they were just reminded how Detroit can play in elimination games. The level of desperation shown by the opposing team is not going to go down when the series resumes on Saturday. This will still be yet another elimination game for Lidstrom and company.
Nights like tonight do happen, but the Sharks are in a position where they can say, as did Dan Boyle in a post game interview, "iI's just a loss, and we'll treat it just like any other loss." They still have at least three more games to earn a win, although I'm sure no one wants to come back to Detroit again this spring.
But one thing is certain-- there is no easy road to the conference final. The Sharks will have to leave everything on the ice if they want to advance.
We have already seen them do this more than once during playoffs.