Sharks let it slip away in the third period as Red Wings rebound in 4-3 win
For all the excellent work San Jose has done this postseason to erase the demons of yore, tonight was a brutal reminder that not everything can be taken for granted during the postseason. For forty minutes the Sharks outshot, out chanced, and out paced the Red Wings, dominating the scoresheet in all facets of the game.
Through two period the Sharks held the shot advantage 30-16. They were converting in the circles at a 57% rate, had drawn three penalties, and only went to the box once. It was a nearly perfect display of execution from a team who was fighting to advance to their second straight Western Conference Finals appearance, and one that resembled all of the strides the team has taken over the course of the last three and a half months.
Things began to look even brighter in the third period when Dany Heatley sprung Logan Couture on a breakaway with a nice pass to enter the Red Wings zone. Couture slipped the puck past Howard with a pretty backhander to give San Jose a 3-1 lead, sending HP Pavilion into a frenzy. The home crowd smelled blood, looking forward to the second straight year when they would see handshakes at center ice.
But Detroit just wouldn't quit. Specifically, the magnificent Pavel Datsyuk just wouldn't quit, despite a body that for all intents and purposes is not functioning how it was meant to be.
"There's lots of nice players during the regular season. But if you don't have the drive train, if you can't compete at the highest level, you can't win at this time of year," Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock said. "It's about competition and digging in. And Pavel does that."
Datsyuk, who is dealing with an injured wrist that has kept him off the ice for Detroit's morning skates, had two assists during the third period that fueled the Wings three goal comeback. None was better than his takeaway that led to Detroit's go ahead goal, where a seemingly helpless Patrick Marleau fell victim to the wizardry of the Russian superstar.
Datsyuk ripped the puck off of Marleau's stick with the Sharks needing a clear and proceeded to drive to the net. As Marleau came back down the ice and put a body on Datsyuk, he slipped away once again, finding Nicklas Lidstrom at the point. Lidstrom found a shooting lane and rifled the puck which took a hop off of Tomas Holmstrom in front of the net.
It was the perfect symbol of what has made Detroit so great over these last few years-- the magic of Datsyuk, the icy cool nature of one of the greatest defenseman to ever play the game, and the rugged determination of a man they call Holmstrom, who has made a living taking a pounding in front of an opposing netminder.
"Being down two they're going to try and get their game going and take some chances. They did, and they were able to capitalize," Marleau said. "They just started coming at us and our execution was off, and if that's letting up then maybe that's it. Getting pucks out, getting pucks behind them, the things we we were doing in the first two periods. And the one time you don't do it they get a chance and put it in the back of your net."
Despite the blown third period lead however, make no mistake-- the Sharks controlled this game throughout the first forty minutes, and despite the breakdowns that pervaded the Wings three goal onslaught in the third, San Jose managed to get their opportunities as well. Jimmy Howard was excellent tonight for Detroit, stopping 39 shots in his team's victory.
Something that McLellan acknowledged following the game.
"He was very good. He was very good in the third period. For the full night he gave their team an opportunity to win, and you expect that from your goaltenders this time of the year," McLellan said. "I thought we had a number of chances, especially in the second period. Two on one's, three on one's. We have to find a way to finish on at least one or two more of those. But we didn't. And we'll work hard to earn those again on Tuesday."
As we wrote in our preview today, attention to details will be the key throughout this series. And although San Jose did have a strong game through two periods tonight, their attention to detail in the third period was something that brought about their demise. During the first forty minutes the Sharks controlled the neutral zone spectacularly, shutting down Detroit's transition game and entering the offensive zone with ease. They cleared pucks and gave Niemi space to make saves.
In the third period, that type of resolve was not present. And although San Jose didn't curdle into a ball like Buster from Arrested Development when faced with a bear attack (read: a bully trying to get lunch money), something slipped. Whether it be focus or execution, San Jose allowed themselves to give up a two goal lead with their skate blade pressed against the Wings throat.
The difference was in the details. The smallest of details that cause a gaping chasm this time of year, especially against a team as skilled as Detroit. They are the difference between victory and bitter defeat.
As the Sharks turn towards game six, and the word "must-win" begins to enter the vocabulary, San Jose faces a team that, while bruised and battered, is not yet beaten. Not by a long shot.
"We're going to be better for sure in game six. We are going to take it back to Detroit," Wings Head Coach Babcock said. "We think we played real well here. We probably should have won game three and we didn't so now we've got to go back there and win game six."
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan allowed his leaders to take the floor tonight, stating that the time for strategic reflection would come tomorrow.
Tonight was time for the troops to rally the troops, for the brothers to band together.
A loss such as this has the ability to exact a severe psychological toll on the locker room. It has the ability to pit friends against friends, to begin the useless and unfruitful act of pointing fingers at one another.
But the Sharks didn't allow that demon to enter the room tonight. As McLellan explained following the game, he likes what he sees from his team mentally heading into a crucial game six.
"I left them alone today. We'll get a long day together tomorrow when we're flying for five hours and we'll get an opportunity to meet. The message I heard guys talking about, from our leaders, is that it is behind us now and we have to move on. I thought that was an excellent message to be sent throughout the locker room.
"Get your heads up and get ready to play again."