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)
If important goals are defined as such by the amount of excitement they elicit from a fanbase, it's likely this one doesn't belong. I can only speak for myself but when Patrick Marleau scored in Game 7 of the Sharks' 2011 Western Conference Semifinals series against Detroit to put the team up 3-1 in the third period, the feeling was more relief than exhilaration. Of course, that had to do entirely with the circumstances that brought San Jose to that moment. The Sharks had blown a 3-0 series lead and were looking to avoid both historic embarrassment and loading their critics' weapons with endless ammunition by preventing the 2010-11 Sharks from becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to lose a playoff series in which they held a three-games-to-none lead.
While that very premise itself was exceedingly unusual, the entire series was freaky in showcasing just how evenly matched the Sharks and Red Wings were. Both teams scored 18 goals over the course of the series, the Red Wings generated 247 shots on goal while the Sharks generated 246 and the teams earned roughly the same number of scoring chances. These were two heavyweights going at it and while the trajectory the series took lent itself to potential embarrassment for the Sharks, there would have certainly been no shame in losing to Detroit overall. Unless, of course, Jeremy Roenick had anything to say about it. Roenick's comments about Marleau, who was scoreless in the series through six games, following San Jose's Game 5 loss are already etched into Sharks lore. It's giving Roenick a hilarious amount of undue credit to even suggest his tirade sparked Marleau's series-winning goal. But it still made what happened with about eight minutes remaining in that third period all the more satisfying:
Marleau skates the entire length of the ice on this shift, starting the play behind his own net by passing the puck to an open Joe Thornton. Thornton initiates the breakout by allowing Boyle to carry the puck through the neutral zone and lead a 3-on-2 thanks to Niklas Kronwall getting caught deep. The other Wings defenseman on the ice, Brian Rafalski, who also contributed to Marleau's previous series-winning goal versus Detroit, decides to ignore Devin Setoguchi down the left wing who catches the pass from Boyle and is all alone in front of Jimmy Howard. The first shot gets stopped but Marleau's there to pound home the rebound, save the Sharks from humiliation, "redeem" himself as a playoff difference-maker even though, you know, he's scored more postseason goals than everyone but Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Briere since 2002 and more than everyone except Zetterberg, Briere, Johan Franzen and Sidney Crosby since the lockout, and, for the second straight year, eliminate the once-unbeatable Red Wings in the second round. That was a relief.