It's nights like these when you realize just why you're alive.
Seven minutes into overtime Justin Williams ripped a slap shot wide of the net as the Red Wings overpursued below the circles, springing a Sharks 2 on 1. With Joe Thornton carrying the puck down the wing and Patrick Marleau driving hard to the net, Thornton threaded a pass through Brian Rafalski to Marleau's patient stick.
Tape to tape, take it to the bank.
With that goal the annals of history became unraveled, the faces of past failure suddenly transformed into symbols of success. The expectation headed into tonight was that Detroit would play their best game of the series, and after the initial thirty minutes of play, that expectation held true. The Wings dominated the Sharks throughout the first period and the first half of the second, peppering Evgeni Nabokov with shot upon shot from various angles.
Roughly ten minutes into the game the Wings appeared to have struck first. Henrik Zetterberg took a pass off the skate to beat Nabokov, but the officials overturned the ruling due to the fact that the Swedish winger had kicked in the goal with his toe and displayed a distinct kicking motion. As the review went to Toronto and a premature octopus flew to the ice, Fear The Fin's first star of the game made an appearance. From "Let It Be" by The Beatles during the initial conference amongst the officials, "The Waiting" by Tom Petty during the review in Toronto, and "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes after the call was reversed, the DJ's tunes were timely and on point.
Say what you will about Marleau, Nabokov, Couture, Setoguchi, or Thornton-- Detroit's event coordination staff might have had the performance of the postseason.
Following the overturned goal, waves continued to roar into the Sharks defensive zone. Although he Sharks did a good job of keeping the Red Wings' talented forward group to the perimeter and blocking shots from the point, Detroit managed to assert themselves on the low cycle and flip pucks from the boards into the low slot in front of Nabokov.
That zone domination paid off as the Wings struck first. Carrying the puck from the center of the circles, Nicklas Lidstrom drove below the net amidst a scrambling Sharks defensive unit. He found Franzen behind Nabokov, who promptly circled above the end line and sent a centering feed to Tomas Holmstrom in front of the net for the first tally of the game. Kent Huskins, who had taken a high stick from Dan Boyle in the seconds preceding the goal, was unable to body the gargantuan winger out of the crease.
Evgeni Nabokov, who looked excellent and kept the Sharks within striking distance all night long, came up with a pivotal save in the minutes following the Detroit lead. Henrik Zetterberg was awarded a penalty shot when Logan Couture allegedly covered the puck in the crease during a scramble in front of the net. With Nabokov sprawling to take away to lower half of the net, Zetterberg attempted his patented forehand, deke, backhand up high trickery during the ensuing attempt. Nabokov reached behind him to snare the shot with a brilliant glove save, and kept the deficit at one.
However, Detroit continued to force the issue. Dan Cleary banged the twine late in the third after finding a soft spot in San Jose's defense, and it looked as if the Wings would take a two goal lead into intermission. With the seconds ticking down to the ten second mark, San Jose cycled in the zone and Joe Pavelski attempted to jam the puck in past Jimmy Howard from behind the net. It kicked out to the low slot, where Setoguchi pounced and slid it five hole to cut the lead in half with two seconds left on the clock.
The memories of bad bounces were thought to have been left behind following the Sharks first round series against Colorado, but they reared their ugly head again at the start of the second. Henrik Zetterberg threw a puck at the net that Nabokov managed to save, but the ensuing rebound bounced off Douglas Murray's skate back into the net. If Joe Louis Arena needed a reason to get behind their team already, they had it. And once again, Nabokov was up to the task, stopping everything that seemed to be thrown his way. He would not surrender a goal for the remainder of the game.
The middle of the second saw the Sharks push back to even the score, generating good opportunities against a relatively untested Jimmy Howard. None was better than a slick cross-ice feed from Joe Pavelski to Devin Setoguchi, who chipped the puck just wide towards the tail end of the period.
The momentum from the end of that periodwould eventually pay off.
Heading into the third period down two goals in Joe Louis Arena is a recipe that results in some pretty awful concoctions. It generally gives you the runs, your palms get sweaty, and eventually you just head to the can to expel the mistakes from your orifices. Punch your card and get back on your horse tomorrow.
Turns out the Sharks got on that horse today.
Joe Thornton started things off for San Jose by controlling the puck and driving to the front of the net, utilizing the traffic Patrick Marleau supplied in front to place a great shot past Jimmy Howard. It seemed as if the Sharks wouldn't let up on their attack during the entire period, running circles around the tired Detroit defenseman below the circles, engaging themselves physically, and reaping the rewards from a much more aggressive approach to pinching and puck carrying from their defensive unit. All that hard work paid off with six minutes left in the period when Logan Couture flung a shot from an off angle to beat Jimmy Howard five hole and tie the game. If there is one thing I know, it is that Couture has won the hearts of the Hockey Gods. Ever since coming up to San Jose after the trade deadline, Couture has made a habit of scoring the ugliest and dirtiest goals on the roster. The blessings from above have bathed him in light.
Although the Sharks would go 0-7 on the power play tonight, squandering a brilliant opportunity with two and a half minutes in the game to put the icing on the cake, it didn't matter. Nabokov handled the rigors and silenced the ghosts of Joe Louis by providing timely saves throughout, and the team as a whole responded with a bold and dangerous attack for the last twenty seven minutes of the game to score three goals and put a stranglehold on their series.
It was a performance that was one of the best in recent memory-- the demons of Joe Louis vanquished, the Red Wings overcome, Thornton and Marleau landing the killing blow in overtime when it mattered most. A period such as the first would usually result in a lead that was insurmountable for this franchise. But on this day, it was one that proved to be a mere stepping stone. The path to closure is now just one stride away.
It's nights like these when you realize just why you're alive.