It’s been five years in the making, but Niclas Wallin’s goal at 1:39 in the third period couldn’t be any sweeter.
That goal gave the San Jose Sharks all they would need as they withstood a late rally to take control of the semifinal series. Many experts, fans, and pundits predicted that this series would be much different than the second-round series from a year ago where the Sharks dominated and knocked off the Wings in five games.
Coming into Game 2, the Central division winning Detroit Red Wings clearly had revenge on their mind. With that 2010 postseason exit to the Sharks still ringing in their heads, Detroit came out blazing in the first period.
As San Jose has done all postseason however, the Sharks dominated the second period and attacked in waves before Wallin put the Sharks ahead for good.
While it may be a new year and a new team, it might not be any different of an outcome for the Detroit Red Wings.
San Jose now has the luxury of earning the split in Detroit, giving them a chance to close on home ice. Jimmy Howard was again superhuman, but will need his best effort at home to prevent the Sharks from taking a choke hold back to the Tank.
Let's take a look at win six of 16 in the quest to bring the Stanley Cup home to the Bay Area.
The Sharks penalty kill unit was busy early on in Game 2, thanks to a ticky-tack roughing call going to Ryane Clowe on the forecheck.
Special teams has been a sticking point for both franchises this postseason, as they have both struggled to match their regular season numbers. San Jose would kill off the roughing call, and Ian White would open the scoring at 4:54 following the Justin Abdelkader high-sticking penalty.
San Jose continued to play strong through the neutral zone and in support of Antti Niemi, and stymied any sustained Detroit offense.
Though the Red Wings enjoyed more success than they had tasted in Game 1, outshooting the Sharks 12-7, many were low percentage chances.
Things got a little chippy towards the end of the first period, and emotions would spill over in the second frame. Ben Eager and Todd Bertuzzi took matching minors at 6:35 of the second period, resulting from a questionable hit on Dany Heatley.
Emotions got the better of Eager as he retaliated almost immediately after his minor had expired, leading to a ten-minute misconduct.
The Sharks imposed their will on the ice from that point onward however, as San Jose swarmed Jimmy Howard once again to close out the period. Some terrific scoring chances all around, including some nifty stick work by Douglas Murray deep in the attacking zone.
The second period closed as Niemi came up against a late rally from Detroit, he was marvelous in Game 2 and saved the Sharks from an early onslaught. Outshooting Detroit 19-9 for the second frame, San Jose also rebounded from a tough start in the faceoff circle and won 18 of 27 in the second.
The crucial third period began with the top lines on the ice, and the Sharks again took play right to Detroit with no fear.
Just a minute and a half into the third, the Sharks cashed in to take the two goal lead following a terrific breakout from Ian White. Niclas Wallin took the pass from Ryane Clowe and entered the attacking zone before shooting the puck past Howard putting the Sharks ahead by two.
Niemi again shone as he made several huge saves to answer the Red Wings attack, including the huge Johan Franzen deflection at 6:50.
Detroit finally got on the scorecard at 13:58 of the third, as Henrik Zetterberg scored on the power play to cut into the Sharks lead. That would be it for Detroit on the day, and Niemi and the Sharks would put the clamps down and close out the game.
His arrival to the team came with little fanfare at the deadline, but his impact has been enormous.
White has effectively taken over one half of the Sharks third defensive pairing with Niclas Wallin and improved the San Jose defense enormously.
He is also taking on top four minutes, playing the point with deadly effectiveness, and leading the Sharks breakout when Dan Boyle is not on the ice. White's heads up play on the Wallin goal led to the odd-man rush down the ice, and the subsequent game-winner.
And how many times have we seen Ian White take the puck at the blueline and display the kind of hockey sense as seen on his first goal? Outwaiting the Wings high man, White simply coasted until he found a seam he liked before shooting the puck past Howard.
What else can you say about Nemo unless you haven’t really watched him power the Sharks through a remarkable second half surge?
Many so-called experts and bandwagon fans were quick to judge Niemi based on his early struggles against the Kings. Niemi’s been more than solid and has saved the Sharks several times late in crucial moments, but hadn’t quite put up a stellar performance in the playoffs.
Game 2 was finally his rise to redemption, as he was simply magical throughout the entire game coming up with huge saves against the Red Wings. In the first period as well as the third, Niemi rose to stymie the Red Wings at almost every turn.
The Helm breakaway early in the second period, the Franzen deflection early in the third period, you name it Niemi stopped it.
Recording 33 saves for the Game 2 victory, Niemi is now 21-8 in the postseason and will look to put a lock on the series with a similar effort at the Joe.
The unit that struggled through most of the regular season is finding it’s way in the playoffs and becoming a huge factor.
Against one of most talented power play units in the league, the Sharks have limited them to 1-8 through two games.
The penalty kill began clicking against Los Angeles, and will need to continue playing strong shorthanded to close out the Wings.
The power play had struggled against the Kings, but for some reason seems to be finding it’s way against the Red Wings. The Sharks are playing their game with the man advantage, and without Howard could easily have four more goals between just two games.
The Sharks now have two power play goals, which matches their total output from the Los Angeles series.
It’s déjà vu for the Red Wings as they head home to defend their home ice in Game 3, but will the outcome be the same?
In a classic case of letdown, the Sharks could have easily squandered Game 2 away as they did in the quarterfinal series. Instead they put up a repeat performance, swarming the net, hemming Detroit in their own zone and hammering players on the forecheck.
San Jose had to know that Detroit would be fighting for their playoff lives, and put forth a terrific effort to extend their series lead.
We all know what’s said about the Sharks and their inability to rise up collectively as a team and shine when the lights are brightest. And so far in the 2010-11 Western Conference Semifinals, they are proving their doubters wrong.
The Sharks take their excellent road record to the legendary Joe Louis Arena for Game 3, looking for the split. While the Joe has more than it’s fair share of bad memories for Sharks fans, it’s just another building to the Sharks now.
The 2010 playoff run pierced the shroud of invincibility that building once held against San Jose, and like last year the Sharks just may stun Detroit again in Game 3.