San Jose eliminates Detroit in five games with 2-1 victory
The wishing, the waiting, the heartbreak, the hand-wringing. The fear, the failure, the anger, the agony.
All of that, silenced, when the clock read zero tonight.
San Jose reaches the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2004, doing so by defeating their historical nemesis the Detroit Red Wings. It was the biggest series in franchise history-- a loss would have likely meant an implosion in the offseason, with Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov a near certainty to be let go. Joe Thornton's name would have become synonymous with trade rumors, and the discussion on talk radio about his shortcomings would have reached a fevered pitch.
All of that, silenced, when the clock read zero tonight.
The biggest series in franchise history was handled in a mere five games. It is a time of celebration and jubilation, of freedom from the demons that have plagued our souls for five years. It was a monumental event that shook the city of San Jose tonight, one that will go down in the history books as a moment where the shackles of shame were broken in one quick flick of Patrick Marleau's wrist.
Tonight is exactly where we wanted to be.
Tomorrow is when it sets in that we're only halfway home.
San Jose came out strong to start the game, sending wave after wave to the Wings net. It seemed as if Detroit could do nothing more than chip the puck in deep and get a change for the majority of the period, with the Sharks running around uncontested in the offensive zone. Early on Joe Pavelski had a shining opportunity from between the circles all alone, but he put it wide of the net in an attempt to pick the corners.
That did not discourage San Jose however, as they continued to crash the net.
The best chance of the period came when Brian Rafalski coughed the puck up behind his own net while being pursued by Patrick Marleau. The former Captain quickly chipped it to Joe Thornton in front of the net who, despite displaying some nifty hands in tight, rang his backhand shot off the pipe. Rob Blake would follow the method of near-misses by receiving a cross-ice feed from Devin Setoguchi on a late period power play only to get handcuffed and put the puck into the netting despite having his stick just outside of the blue paint.
On another night this period would haunt the Sharks. But this was a game that was meant to be.
Running in contrast to the first period was the second. As excellent as Howard was for the first twenty minutes, Evgeni Nabokov had to be even better. Detroit came out as one would expect them to after a horrible period in an elimination game, and proceeded to take the play to San Jose.
Despite a strong first two minutes of play from the Sharks, the Red Wings would manage to strike first. In a battle behind the net Todd Bertuzzi managed to poke the puck free to Johan Franzen. Franzen sent the puck up to Brian Rafalski at the point, who took a quick stride to his left in order to open up a shooting lane. His shot deflected off Patrick Marleau on it's way to the net, squeeking past Evgeni Nabokov short side.
It was at that point the Red Wings realized what was at stake, and for the remaining minutes of the second, threw everything they had at Nabokov. He was nothing short of spectacular in this frame, thanks in part to a brilliant kill midway through where the Sharks cleared the zone as soon as the Red Wings would enter.
However, despite being outplayed and outchanced, the Sharks managed to tie the score at one by the hands of Joe Thornton. After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone to begin a power play, Jason Demers snuck his shot through traffic to Jimmy Howard, who left a juicy rebound in the crease. That was all Thornton needed, as he pulled the puck back ever so slightly and banged it home.
Following the goal Thornton punched the air and banged on the glass, displaying the rugged emotion that is usually reserved for a player such as Ryan Getzlaf. His physical play at the end of game four, while called classless by some, displayed exactly the type of edge many have wished he would play with for so long. And while this is an unconfirmed theory, Thornton's display of Getzlaf-esque emotion may be connected to playing with a fellow balding player in Dany Heatley. There is something about a receding hairline that brings out the emotion in people.
With the first twenty minutes in the books, the tilt dragged on to the third. Joe Pavelski was presented with a penalty shot after slipping past Niklas Kronwall with a clean deke through his legs, only to be held up on his backhanded attempt in front of Howard. The shot was all for naught however, as Pavelski put the puck about three feet wide. Although we mentioned that it was likely Pavelski's shooting percentage would come down after a torrid beginning to the postseason, that opportunity was not what we had in mind.
The Sharks continued to have their chances at the net, with a 3 on 2 materializing in the middle of the period. Ryane Clowe found Patrick Marleau across the ice with a pass that split the defense. Marleau's attempt to center the puck to Dany Heatley was unsuccessful however, and Jimmy Howard jumped on the loose puck.
However, eventually Howard would crack. And it would be the big sledgehammers of Thornton and Marleau who would reduce the Red Wings to rubble.
With the puck behind the net, Dany Heatley came flying in on the forecheck to cause Brian Rafalski to cough the puck up for the second time behind the net. Joe Thornton quickly took the puck and whipped a beautiful backhand pass to Patrick Marleau who was camped out between the circles. Marleau wasted no time in rifling a wicked wrist shot past the outreached glove of Jimmy Howard, and the game's final goal was in the books.
The greatest part about this postseason has been the balanced scoring San Jose has received, although that scoring has come on separate nights. Joe Pavelski and line two carried the Sharks during the Colorado series; as they have begun to cool off, Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley have stepped into their rightful roles as leaders of the team and scored some huge goals. Thornton was a man on a mission tonight and it paid off-- a couple more performances such as these and the San Jose Sharks will be in excellent hands.
Woooooostern Conference Finals on the docket, series recap tomorrow.