SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 8: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 8, 2010 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/ Getty Images)
(Editor's Note: Forgot to put one of these up yesterday so we'll have two today instead.)
Everyone wants the Sharks' primary rival to be Anaheim or Los Angeles or maybe Dallas; a division rival located in relative geographic proximity to San Jose with a history of regular season nastiness and a few playoff run-ins between the clubs. The fact is, that's just not the case. Sure, Sharks fans and players alike revel in their hatred of the Ducks and Kings and Stars but the one franchise that has always stood as the Gobots to the Sharks' Transformers, the Galactic Empire to the Sharks' Rebel Alliance, the to the Sharks', well, Sharks is the Detroit Red Wings. It obviously started in 1994 when a fledgling Sharks franchise that demanded to be taken seriously, but rarely was, knocked off a powerhouse 1st-seeded Wings team in seven games. But after that series, especially and including the very next year when Detroit outscored the Sharks 24-6 en route to a second-round sweep, the rivalry turned extremely one-sided. The Wings were the superior team in every facet of the game, scooped up two championships while the Sharks struggled to get out of the first round for the rest of the nineties and ensured San Jose would basically never pick up a win at the Joe Louis Arena.
Until 2010. After a lull in the early 2000's, during which the other two California teams improbably knocked Detroit out of the first round on separate occasions, the Sharks/Wings rivalry began to seriously ramp up after the Red Wings once again eliminated the Sharks from the postseason in 2007. It got even more intriguing when Wings assistant Todd McLellan took the head coaching job in San Jose after winning a Cup with Detroit the following year. San Jose began to have more success against Detroit (who can forget this game?) as well as more success than the Red Wings period, at least in the regular season, winning the President's Trophy in 2009. But they didn't have another chance to prove their worth in the playoffs until drawing the Red Wings in the second round in 2010.
With the well-worn narrative of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau being "playoff chokers" getting media play after the two failed to contribute much scoring in the team's first-round victory over Colorado (never mind that they contributed to the Sharks territorially dominating the Avalanche like few teams have ever accomplished in a post-lockout playoff series), the team improbably opened up a 3-0 series lead over Detroit with Thornton and Marleau combining for seven points, including the game-winning goals in Games 2 and 3. But the Sharks couldn't finish the job, dropping Game 4 in embarrassing fashion, 7-1, at the Joe.
San Jose would have a chance to dispose of the hated Red Wings on home ice if they could just win one more game. Brian Rafalski opened the scoring for Detroit minutes into the second period but Thornton responded, slamming home a Jason Demers rebound on the power play. Then, about seven minutes into the third period, with the game still tied and the Sharks having drawn an offensive-zone faceoff with their big line of Thornton, Marleau and Dany Heatley on the ice, this happened:
The goal itself is a thing of perfectly-executed beauty. Heatley works the puck free off the draw and follows his errant shot behind the Wings' net where he pressures Rafalski into a turnover. All the while, Marleau's been sneaking into the slot completely undetected by anyone on the ice...except, of course, for Thornton who sets him up flawlessly for a one-timer that gets ripped past Jimmy Howard. It was thoroughly representative of those two players' skillsets and it was an announcement to the hockey world that the ever-ridiculous labeling of the Sharks' best players as guys who couldn't bring it in the postseason had just become even further removed from reality. San Jose held on to defeat the Red Wings in a playoff series for the first time since 1994 and the best part was that, with the exception of Game 3 in which Henrik Zetterberg posted the most dominant performance of his impressive career, the Sharks had earned their victories. They outchanced Detroit over the duration of the series and looked every bit like the better team. The emotional post-series handshake line proved it once and for all: the Wings were the Sharks' true nemesis and they had finally just slain the dragon.