With Jimmy Howard bringing his A game in the second period tonight, and the Sharks trailing the Red Wings 1-0 heading into the third period, it was easy to think back to previous game one outings at HP Pavilion. Miika Kiprusoff in 2008, Jonas Hiller in 2009, Craig Anderson and Antti Niemi in 2010-- all stellar goaltending performances which stymied a San Jose attack that, despite the scoreboard, had brought their "A" game as well.
It took until 10:22 of the third period for San Jose to finally break through. And sure as day it was Joe Pavelski coming through once again. With the Sharks on the power play midway through the period, and time winding down in the ever-important first game of the series, Joe Thornton rifled a slap shot from center ice that Howard managed to fight off into the air. Pavelski, channeling his inner Buster Posey, swatted the puck out of the air and into the net for San Jose's first tally of the night.
"Guys were hungry, we seemed to get a little better each period," Pavelski said. "They're a good team, it could have gone either way at times. Definitely we finished."
As the game headed into overtime you got the feeling Pavelski, who has made a name for himself with timely postseason scoring, would be among the front-runners to seal the game in the extra frame. It was either that or a player such as Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe, Dany Heatley, three Sharks forwards who had good games up until that point and gotten their fair share of chances to crack Howard already.
As it turns out, the hero wouldn't be a first line player. It would be a player who hadn't played a 2011 postseason game up until tonight, a player who had taken a mere one shift in the third period and was in the midst of his first of overtime.
Benn Ferriero, the birthday boy, scoring a goal that put the icing on top of San Jose's (as well as his) cake.
"You have to do the things you know have to do when at any time you may get called upon," Ferriero stated with a throng of reports surrounding his locker room stall. "Play solid and contribute, do the little things. Bring some energy to the game and be good on the forecheck. Basically play a solid game. You don't have to play flashy out there. I think I played pretty well tonight."
The San Jose Sharks are now 4-0 in overtime this postseason. And while it's hard to imagine a day when the fatigued "choke" label that dominates the mainstream media's coverage of the Sharks will subside, tonight was yet another example that this Sharks team has done their damndest to shake that label entirely.
From the drop of the puck in the first period, it was abundantly clear that San Jose had shaken whatever first round issues they had against Los Angeles. The passing was crisp, the defensive coverage was sound, and outside of plays that featured the excellent Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings never seriously threatened for an extended period of time.
Let us reiterate-- Datsyuk was phenomenal tonight, from his work on the forecheck to his dangles in open ice that made a few Sharks defenseman look mystified as he effortlessly moved around them. And he was the one who got the Wings on the scoresheet first, controlling the puck along the boards and sending a soft centering pass to Nicklas Lidstrom, who had jumped up into the middle of the Sharks defensive zone. The 41-year old Norris candidate made it count, hammering a shot past Niemi to give the Wings a 1-0 lead.
But it was from that point on that the Sharks began to control the play, using their big forwards to wear Detroit down on the forecheck and low cycle. The first through the third line controlled the play in this regard, and San Jose's ability to fend off the Wings with excellent puck control and methodical puck placement generated plenty of opportunities for the Sharks. It was exactly what led to their success during their series last year against Detroit, and something that San Jose has clearly highlighted as a key aspect to this series.
"They're a very good puck protection team. When they have an opportunity to get their asses out and protect pucks, they do a tremendous job at that," McLellan said. "Our play along the boards is going to have to be very important to counter that, to contain them. Vice versa, when we get into their zone, we want to protect the puck. You'll see in seven games, someone will get worn out because of it, whether it be our team or their team. I thought we did a very good job in the second period."
During the second San Jose outshot the Wings eighteen to nine. In reality, it didn't even feel that close. Although Detroit did have a few players who had strong outings-- Datsyuk's line played well, Bertuzzi had some chances, and Franzen was dangerous-- they didn't get the support from up and down the lineup that they expected.
Something that Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock touched upon in his customary straight forward and honest post-game pressers.
"I thought they were better than us. I thought we looked like a team that, especially up front, it didn't look like we skated very good. I thought they were quicker," Babcock stated. "I actually didn't mind my back end at all, I thought they had way too much wear and tear on them and [San Jose's] defense had a night off. We didn't touch them."
Speaking of San Jose's blueline, Dan Boyle returned to form tonight after a Kings series that he admitted to be one that he needed to improve on. The Sharks defenseman was extremely consistent in his own zone tonight, breaking up any Red Wings chances that came his way. His positioning was superb, and considering he saw a heavy dose of the Russian wizard Datsyuk tonight, that's a good thing for a player who San Jose will continue to give big minutes to going forward.
"I felt better, number one. From the get go, last series, I felt like I was just short of breath and really struggling," Boyle said. "Tonight I just felt healthy, had my legs going, and obviously I knew I was in for a good matchup with some of the best guys in the league there. I thought we did a good job of containing them."
Although San Jose put in a very good effort tonight, any talk of momentum going into game two would likely be premature. Detroit is a veteran club used to rebounding from less than appealing outings, and with a noon start on Sunday, they'll have an opportunity to strike back at the Sharks quickly. If San Jose continues where they left off tonight however, there's little doubt that a noon matinee could pay off dividends for a team looking to make a statement by holding serve at home.
The Sharks now have four overtime wins in seven games played this postseason, the first time they have won at least four OT games in team playoff history.
But with their sights set on another franchise record of greater importance, there's no rest for the weary just yet.