It was San Jose's eighth win in a row and gives them a 17-2-1 mark over the past 20 games, all starts by goalie Antti Niemi. It was also their third in a row without ace defenceman Dan Boyle, showing their depth.
The win gave San Jose the season series over Detroit 3-1, and their first home victory over the Red Wings in a regular-season game since January 17, 2009. They have now won eight of their last ten against the Wings including the playoffs, and Niemi improved to 5-1-1 lifetime against Detroit.
San Jose came out with a flurry, out-shooting Detroit 12-1 through the first part of the opening period en route to a 1-0 lead on a crash-the-net goal by Dany Heatley.
But the Wings pushed back, putting 21 of the next 29 shots on goal. They got the equalizer twice on their second power play of the first period—the first was questionably disallowed for interference by Johan Franzen, but the one that counted was a redirect by Tomas Holmstrom.
However, the Sharks still managed an early power-play goal in the second. Joe Thornton won a draw in the attacking zone wide to Joe Pavelski, who fired a shot-pass that Heatley redirected for his second goal after 11 games without one.
Then the team that struggled in the third period earlier in the season turned up the heat, out-shooting their guests 8-5 and getting a late break. With 4:12 left, goalie Andy MacDonald came out to chip a puck past a defended Patrick Marleau, but the greatest Sharks player of all time deflected it off the shaft of his stick into the vacated net.
Game over. Despite being out-played by the gold standard of hockey teams for half the game, the Sharks won 3-1.
How? By playing typical 2011 Sharks hockey.
They blocked 21 of the Wings' 60 shot attempts (12 missed the net) and only had 16 of their own 61 blocked (17 missed). They won 37 of 62 face-offs.
They out-hit the less physical Wings 24-18. They took care of the puck almost as well as the team that has mastered that skill (12/11 in giveaways/takeaways to the Wings' 9/10).
All of this puts San Jose in position to take the second seed away from Detroit. They currently trail the perennial Cup contenders by just three points with 17 games to go.
It also puts them in position to worry more about who they are chasing than who is chasing them in the Pacific Division. The Sharks have a 2.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Kings, a three-game lead over the Dallas Stars and a 3.5-game lead over Phoenix and Anaheim.
This is important because it means they cannot lose the division title unless they play 150 percentage points worse than their top rivals. Even with 10 of their remaining games against division rivals—three each against Dallas and Phoenix and two each against L.A. and Anaheim—any of those teams catching San Jose is unlikely.
This allows the Sharks to focus on getting ready for the playoffs instead of being concerned about their regular-season finish. With 11 of their last 17 at home, the positioning should take care of itself.