Red Wings stave off the sweep with 4-3 victory over the Sharks

In George Lucas' Star Wars: Return of The Jedi we are introduced to the Sarlacc, an omnivorous creature that inhabits a gigantic hole in the ground in the desert of Tatooine. According to C3P0 (who resembles Gandolf from Lord of The Rings on many levels), falling into the Sarlacc's belly will bring about "a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years." This feeling is akin to what the Detroit Red Wings have experienced when playing the San Jose Sharks lately-- one goal losses that claw and tear at the soul.

Tonight the Red Wings returned the favor.

Darren Helm scored for Detroit with 1:27 remaining in the third period to give the Red Wings new life in this best of seven series. Todd Bertuzzi and Nicklas Lidstrom added three goals for Detroit while San Jose got markers from Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, and Dany Heatley respectively in the loss.

From the drop of the puck it was all Detroit, similar to game four last season in that the Wings were all over the Sharks in the defensive zone. Despite Antti Niemi's brilliance throughout those opening salvos the Wings would keep pushing, eventually taking a 3-0 lead after Nicklas Lidstrom scored what stands to be one of the best goals this postseason.

Breaking to the middle of the zone Lidstrom curtailed the airborne puck by lifting his skate off the ice to control it. Then, with the puck yet to reach the ground, Lidstrom wacked it past Antti Niemi to give the Wings a 3-0 lead. It appeared the rout was on; however, as we've learned so many times this postseason, counting San Jose out of any given game will be a foolish mistake.

The Sharks reminded everyone of this fact quickly, scoring a mere fifteen seconds after Lidstrom's all-world play. Logan Couture tipped in a shot from Ryane Clowe to cut the lead to two and Joe Louis Arena, which was as raucous as ever only moments before, slowly realized what was at stake.

From then on it was just a matter of chipping away.

Kyle Wellwood, who has continued to raise suspicions of Doug Wilson's affiliations with soothsayer such as Miss Cleo, continued his impressive postseason by assisting on San Jose's second goal of the game. Controlling the puck behind the net, Wellwood slowly made his way to the circles and found Dan Boyle pinching up the middle behind the Red Wings defense. Boyle made it count for the second straight game in a row, waiting out Jimmy Howard and roofing his shot upstairs to cut Detroit's lead to one.

The Sharks made quick work in the third period, tying the game after Ryane Clowe found Dany Heatley all alone in front of the net. Heatley, who made a killing last year in those tough spaces, managed to find a hole in the Wings defense and beat Howard to complete the comeback.

It would not be enough however, as Darren Helm would go on to beat Niemi with a minute and a half remaining in regulation to hand San Jose their first loss to Detroit this postseason. All series long the Red Wings have spoken about just needing one bounce to go their way and tonight they got it-- after a three minute flurry with Antti Niemi miraculously stopping everything that was thrown his way, a rebound off Niemi's mask would quickly kick out to Patrick Eaves who had the presence of mind to whip a pass to Helm for the score.

It's no surprise that San Jose came back in this game, but the lack of urgency in the first ten minutes of the game was a death trap waiting to happen. No matter how well they've responded to adversity this season, expecting another break to come their way after spotting the Red Wings three goals proved to be too great a burden to handle. Frankly, without the play of Niemi tonight, the score could have been much more lopsided. He was brilliant for the fourth straight game.

San Jose's penalty kill received a lot of work tonight as well, killing off four straight penalties. It was an admirable group effort from a shorthanded unit who has managed to turn their game around following the five minute PK in game six against the Los Angeles Kings. Despite giving up a goal (the aforementioned beauty from Lidstrom) the Sharks managed to limit the Wings to five shots in this situation-- it was perhaps the best effort you can expect from the team in this situation.

Game five kicks off at 5:00 PM on Sunday.