If anyone still doubts the San Jose Sharks have what it takes this year to win it all, I am at a loss to explain it.
After a two-day layoff to accommodate a previously-scheduled Eagles concert at HP Pavilion, the Sharks put up another valiant effort, overcoming a hard-charging Detroit Red Wings team and two separate deficits to win their fifth straight playoff game with a second 4-3 victory over Detroit.
It is safe to say that the Red Wings did not enjoy their stay at the “Hotel California,” as they now face a 2-0 series deficit against a Sharks team that will be brimming with confidence heading back to Detroit on Tuesday.
The game was far from easy.
Detroit opened the scoring in the first period at 6:51, when Pavel Datsyuk caught Evgeni Nabokov backing into his own goal on a rush down the left wing and beat the Sharks goaltender to the glove side.
The Sharks responded quickly with a power play goal at 9:01 from Conn Smythe candidate Joe Pavelski and an even-strength goal from Ryane Clowe at 10:32, building a 2-1 lead.
The Red Wings, unsurprisingly, were not about to go quietly. They tied the game on the power play at 13:17 of the first, when Tomas Holmstrom tipped in a Johan Franzen shot. The teams skated to the locker rooms tied at two at the first intermission.
The Sharks would again face serious adversity early in the second.
Following the conclusion of a Patrick Marleau penalty which had been assessed at the end of the first period, Detroit captain Niklas Lidstrom beat Evgeni Nabokov with a slapshot at 2:00 to take a 3-2 lead. Nabokov looked highly vulnerable as the goal marked the third Red Wing tally on just eight shots.
However, Nabokov would tighten his play significantly from that point forward, facing another 23 shots in the remaining 38 minutes of play without allowing a goal.
Red Wing goalie Jimmy Howard seemed equal to the task, fending off two Shark power plays and 12 second period shots to preserve the 3-2 Red Wing lead into the second intermission.
The Sharks went on the power play early in the third when Todd Bertuzzi took a holding penalty at 3:01. The advantage was raised to five-on-three 41 seconds later as Niklas Kronwall was sent off for hooking. The Red Wings were incensed at what they saw as another questionable call, but the Sharks would take advantage nonetheless.
Joe Pavelski scored a rebound goal on the five-on-three, tallying his second goal of the game and ninth of the playoffs to tie the game at 4:40 of the third.
An extended five-on-four power play followed as Dan Cleary took a slashing penalty at 5:34, but the Sharks were unable to break the tie.
The game winner was scored at 12:37, when Niklas Lidstrom had his stick snapped in half as he attempted to hold the offensive zone at the point. Dany Heatley scooped up the puck on the right wing and took off on a three-on-one attack with reunited linemates Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
The lone Detroit defenseman played the angle well, denying Heatley the cross-ice pass to Joe Thornton and forcing a clear shot on goal. Jimmy Howard made the save, but the rebound bounced to the left circle where Thornton quickly shot it past an out-of-position Howard and into the net. It marked Jumbo’s first goal of the playoffs but the sixth point of the night for the trio of Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley.
After winning three straight games to overcome a 2-1 series deficit to Colorado and advance to the second round, the Sharks have made huge strides in the first two games against Detroit in answering their critics.
They did what the Penguins and Blackhawks could not, winning the first two games at home and preserving home-ice advantage as the series shifts to Detroit. The Sharks are getting secondary scoring, Joe Pavelski is in his own world (matching playoff accomplishments of the likes of Mario Lemieux), Evgeni Nabokov entered the game leading all playoff goalies in goals against average, and even the “Big Line” players have finally found the scoring touch.
For the first time ever, the Red Wings are showing signs of frustration against the Sharks. Mike Babcock has repeatedly questioned penalty calls and accused Devin Setoguchi of embellishing a trip that gave the Sharks the five-on-three power play in Game One that led to the game-winning goal (despite footage clearly showing a stick to the face on the play). Getting under the skin of the Red Wings should bode well for the Sharks moving forward.
This series is still far from over.
Detroit is certain to make adjustments and vary matchups at home and continue to present a tremendous challenge to the Sharks at every turn. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first two games ended 4-3, as that was the expected series outcome, but the Sharks have done all they can to this point.
The Sharks have shown heart, resiliency, and more importantly garnered results in the face of every challenge this postseason. As a result, they now enjoy something they never have before: a 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings.
While the Sharks have put Detroit in the unenviable position of having to win four the remaining five games to advance, make no mistake that it could still happen. The Sharks led 2-0 in the second round against Edmonton in 2006, before dropping the next four games to lose the series.
The impressive resolve and "one game at a time" attitude of this year’s Sharks, combined with the fact that Milan Michalek is no longer with the team and cannot be the victim of a series-altering cheap shot, suggest this year should have a better outcome.
There is plenty of work left to be done, but if you have yet to start believing in the Sharks, now is the time.
Keep the faith!