The Detroit Red Wings find themselves in a similar situation heading into Game 3 of the Western Conference semi finals at Joe Louis Arena.
After all it was just a year ago that a beat up Red Wing squad left San Jose down 0-2, before bowing out in just five games.
Instead the Red Wings are experiencing an extreme case of déjà vu, heading back to Hockeytown for Game 3 looking to avoid the same fate as a year ago.
Red Wing head coach Mike Babcock and his players know that it's going to be a difficult uphill battle to pull off the comeback in the Western Conference semifinals. With the Red Wings vowing to find a way to overcome their slow start in the best-of-seven matchup the Sharks know first-hand why they can't take anything for granted when the series resumes in Detroit.
While Detroit certainly has the skill, determination and leadership to win Game 3, I believe they will fall.
Here are the top five reasons why
San Jose was suspect at home this year, in stark contrast to a normally dominant home record during the regular season.
Carrying a 23-14-4 road record into the playoffs, the Sharks have continued their road success where they typically simplify their game and get back to basics.
In the postseason the Sharks have enjoyed playing in the other teams barn, outscoring their opponents 16-11 and winning all three contests.
Out-shooting their opponents 119-96 in the playoffs on the road, the Sharks also average roughly two minutes less shorthanded than at home.
The Sharks have also pierced the aura of invincibility at the Joe Louis Arena, where they have traditionally struggled to win games.
Everyone remembers all the experts picking Detroit to storm back a year ago when the San Jose Sharks traveled to Joe Louis Arena. Instead the unthinkable happened as the Sharks won Game 3 en route to closing out the Red Wings in five games.
San Jose had won just eight times in 44 tries in Detroit before last year, but won both regular season contests there this year as well as splitting two playoff games there a year ago.
Simply put, the Sharks no longer fear the Joe and it will show in both Game 3 and 4.
San Jose has gotten their special teams house in order after a dubious start in the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Kings. And against a red hot Red Wing power play who dismantled the Coyotes, the Sharks have answered the call.
Detroit blistered the Coyotes, converting 32 percent of their power play advantages or 8-of-25 chances for those counting at home.
The Sharks have clipped the Red Wings with the man advantage and in Game 2 put the clamps down early and often.
Clowe’s roughing penalty while the game was less than a minute old, found the Red Wings frustrated and disjointed on the power play. The Red Wings managed just one shot through Benn Ferriero’s double-minor just six minutes into the first and failed miserably again in the second period.
Although Zetterberg and the Wings broke through late in the third period, the Sharks penalty kill looks nothing like the one that struggled in the early going vs. LA.
The Sharks are also getting their power play back on track after converting just eight percent of their chances against the Kings. Ian White opened the scoring on the Sharks’ first power play just 4:54 into the first period of Game 2, as well as Joe Pavelski’s game tying goal in Game 1.
The San Jose Sharks have had a reputation of not performing up to their level, or delivering when the stakes were highest. And however fair or unfair those labels may be, the Sharks know plenty about what is said about the team as a whole in the playoffs.
This is the same team that dropped Game 2 in the Western Conference quarterfinals looking disinterested while losing their home-ice advantage. And the same team that allowed Johan Franzen to single-handedly stave off elimination in Game 4 a year ago.
But it’s also the same Shark team that has dominated through stretches of the semifinals so far, and convincingly frustrated the Red Wings in the two losses.
The Game 2 victory marked the Red Wings’ fifth straight defeat at the Shark Tank, and their sixth defeat in the last seven playoff games against the Sharks.
But to count the Wings out in any way in Game 3 would be foolish, they are still a very proud team and as deep and as skilled as they come.
After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the Sharks dropped four straight playoff games against the Edmonton Oilers after winning the first two at home.
Then again the Red Wings have lost six of their last seven series when falling behind 0-2, but looked markedly better in Game 2 than Game 1.
The Sharks have won four overtime playoff contests so far, a first in franchise history and shows this team doesn’t quit playing no matter what. The Sharks must match the Red Wings intensity early on, and shift for shift to prevent the crowd from becoming a factor.
They’ll have to maintain this mindset to enjoy any kind of success in Detroit against a sure to be desperate Red Wing team in Game 3.
Speaking of déjà vu, Antti Niemi again has risen to answer his critics after another sub-par showing as the performance in the quarterfinals a year ago.
He has now stopped 57-of-59 shots and looked unflappable during the late Detroit surge after Zetterberg got the Wings on the board in the third period.
Making several key saves throughout the game, Niemi is back to his Stanley Cup-winning form of a year ago and is giving the Sharks the saves they need to play a more defensively oriented game.
More importantly, he's outperformed the other guy something the Sharks faithful hasn't exactly seen on a consistent basis in the playoffs.
And outperforming the young Red Wing is no small feat as Howard has stood on his head in the early going. Jimmy Howard has been nothing short of spectacular for the Red Wings so far, but how long can he hold up against the San Jose onslaught?
The Sharks may have won both games 2-1, but those scores could easily be inflated if not for the superhuman effort by Jimmy Howard.
He’s proven many people wrong, including myself but will need to be the best Red Wing in Game 3 and brush off the San Jose mental games and ice showers.
He’ll also have to forget the ghosts of Game 3 past, where he let in several soft goals just a year ago to the very same team in the Sharks.
Coming into the series, much of the talk was about how deep both teams were and how big a role the depth players would play in determining the winner.
Detroit can clearly score up and down their roster, with 16 of 19 players scoring a point in the quarterfinal series.
San Jose can boast similar depth, however the skill level of the depth is where the Sharks are markedly superior so far in the series. The top three lines for San Jose scored five goals apiece in the first round, and so far the Detroit Red Wings haven’t had a solution for the Sharks depth.
The second line of Heatley-Couture-Clowe has dominated the Red Wings at times, including a tough stretch in the second period of Game 1. Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood have been red-hot since their inception in February, and it’s clear the Sharks depth is making the difference thus far.
It will be interesting to see what changes Babcock employs as his team fights to gain some ground in Game 3. He’s sure to make adjustments at home with the last change, but Todd McLellan is comfortable with the Thornton line against the Datsyuk line when the game is on the line.
Both teams boast all-world talent on their top lines, but have battled through two games at a near stalemate. Should Babcock split up the Red Wing top line, that should undoubtedly leave more operating room for Setoguchi-Thornton-Marleau.
San Jose’s secondary scoring has played a huge role in the 2-0 series lead and will continue to make the difference in Game 3.
The Sharks second period has been a strong one in the playoffs, and they are out-shooting the Red Wings 37-18 in the middle stanza so far. They have also outscored their playoff opponents 12-8 in the second period, and hold a 119-90 advantage in shots.
Considering the way that both of these teams play, winning faceoffs and controlling the puck is paramount to their success. The second period for the Sharks has shown some remarkable trends as well in that department, including a dominant Game 1 performance by Thornton.
San Jose will have to play their best hockey to date against the Red Wings, who will be fighting for their playoff lives. They will give San Jose an effort worthy of season saving distinction, and the Sharks shouldn't want it any other way.
Here’s to win number seven of 16, and to one hell of a game.