San Jose triumphs over Detroit in Game Seven with a 3-2 win, advance to the Western Conference Finals

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 12: Patrick Marleau #12 and Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after Marleau scored a goal in the third period against the Detroit Red Wings in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the HP Pavilion on May 12, 2011 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game 3 to 2.(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

It's long been the idea that a team's best players have to have their best games in the postseason.

And tonight the Sharks got just that.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Logan Couture, Devin Setoguchi, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all had excellent games for San Jose in their 3-2 victory over Detroit. Setoguchi, Couture, and Marleau all added tallies in the win, with the much maligned Marleau scoring what ended up as the eventual game winner at the 12:13 mark of the third period.

Devin Setoguchi, who scored his fifth goal of the series tonight to give the Sharks their first lead, commented on his line's ability to do just when facing elimination against a veteran team looking to make history.

"I think our line in general was challenged this series. We played against their top players all seven games," Setoguchi said. "It was one of things where it started with Jumbo and Patty and myself, we had to raise our games. We knew if we did we'd have a pretty good chance."

The Sharks top line indeed played their best hockey of the series Saturday night in San Jose, with two of the teams' three goals coming from that group. Although Setoguchi's goal meant volumes considering it was the first of the game, there's no question that the goal which came off the stick of Patrick Marleau was the biggest of the night-- in fact, it was the biggest of this postseason.

Marleau's goal served as poetic justice for a player who has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons over the last three games. Without a goal in the series Marleau was blamed in large part for the Sharks' inability to close out Detroit after taking a three-game lead in the series.

"Patty has been through an awful lot," stated Sharks' coach Todd McLellan, who was quick to defend San Jose's all-time leader in playoff scoring. "The way we played him in the series and the amount of minutes he got, we believe in him immensely." 

Logan Couture also provided a goal for San Jose as the result a play where he hounded Henrik Zetterberg around the Detroit net, stole the puck, and then beat an unsuspecting Jimmy Howard with under a minute left in the first. It was Couture's sixth goal of the postseason, good enough to tie him with Setoguchi for the team lead this postseason.

The game wasn't all San Jose, in fact, far from it. Detroit came into HP Pavilion with the firm belief that they would win the game and played with the skill and ferocity one would expect from a team with no shortage of experienced players. The Sharks dominated play early, but as Red Wings'  coach Mike Babcock talked to after the game, his team had plenty of chances.

"We gave up the power play goal and I thought they took over for the rest of the first," said Babcock, who thought his team improved as the game went on. "We pushed the issue though and got back in it."

Babcock's squad turned their game around after the first intermission, outshooting the Sharks 17-6 in the second frame. But San Jose bore down when it mattered, with committed defensive zone play and strong penalty killing permeating throughout the third period.

Not to mention goaltender Antti Niemi, who had his second gem in a row this postseason.

"I thought the goaltending was outstanding," Babcock said. "We had 40 shots on net and they blocked another 25."

Niemi wasn't perfect though, as Zetterberg and Datsyuk both scored for Detroit during the game. Datsyuk's goal was an amazing display of skill from a player who has impressed all series, even with a sore wrist.

"I've only been in the league four years, but to see a goal like that, it was pretty incredible," offered Devin Setoguchi, who watched Datsyuk slice through the neutral zone and scoop a backhanded shot over Niemi, tucking it under the crossbar. 

San Jose's penalty kill was spectacular tonight, limiting the dangerous Wings power play to a two mere shots in four opportunities. Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle led the shorthanded unit with 4:26 and 3:54 of ice time respectively-- McLellan relied upon Pavelski, Thornton, Marleau, and Couture to do the heavy lifting amongst the forwards, trusting his most talented offensive players to get the job done once again.

None was bigger than their final kill of the night. A minute after Pavel Datsyuk's magical goal at the 13:59 mark Torrey Mitchell went to the box for slashing, setting the Wings in motion as they began to press for the tying marker.

But just like the five minute penalty in game six that held off the Kings, San Jose's PK unit was once again able to stymie the attack.

"The difference was our power play goal and our penalty kill. I thought we had a pretty good plan tonight (on the PK)," McLellan said. "They beat us with a drop pass a lot throughout the series and we adjusted quickly. We felt that if we did not allow them any free entries into our zone we had a better opportunity to kill them, and we did a good job there.They didn't get set that much and our players come up big."

With the game dwindling down into the final seconds, the Red Wings had one last opportunity to tie. With the puck bouncing around near Niemi's net, and Detroit crashing into the crease, Patrick Eaves had an opportunity when the puck bounced out onto his stick. But Patrick Marleau was there to disrupt the opportunity, laying a body on Eaves and breaking up what was the last scoring chance of the game.

"He was just in front of the net and they made a quick play out front, they kind of spun around I think it might have been Hudler," Marleau said. "I got back just in time and got the stick on him and deflect the puck out."

Tonight the San Jose Sharks advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row. And while superlatives and hyperbole tend to become the norm around the postseason, there is no doubt that tonight laid to rest one of the finest displays of hockey you may ever witness in your life. As Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan mentioned earlier today, this series has been as tight as they come.

Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock re-iterated those thoughts tonight.

"We've got to give them credit. They're a good team," Babcock said. "It was a good series, it was entertaining, it was fast, it was hard for any team to lead the other team. It was just one of those series."

It's safe to say the rest of the hockey world agrees.

But while fans across the Bay Area have the ability to enjoy tonight for what it was and always will be-- a game they will remember for the rest of their lives, a series that is perhaps the best they will ever witness-- Vancouver awaits on Sunday.

And for Head Coach Todd McLellan, this victory is one that brings with it not just happiness, but a realization that much more work will need to be done.

"It's draining. It's draining for everybody-- players, trainers, coaching staff. We're going to start working on Vancouver tonight, we don't have many days. It will be interesting."

"We'll enter a series, certainly against Vancouver, as the underdog. And that hasn't happened before. That will take a little pressure off us there and we'll play free."

Tonight the Sharks showed the hockey world that the label that plagued them over the last five years does not fit the bill when it comes to this year's edition of the San Jose Sharks. Was it "clutch"? It most certainly was not. It was execution and opportunistic excellence that put the Sharks into the third round for the second straight year. It was an attention to detail that carried the day.

But tomorrow, when the players and coaching staff awake to the challenge that lies ahead, that execution and attention to detail will be paramount.

And if they showed us anything tonight, those traits will be what they draw upon time and time again as they continue their march to the Promised Land.

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