2011 NHL Playoffs: 5 Reasons the Detroit Red Wings Will Win Game 7 in San Jose
You know, a hockey fan could get pretty used to this.
After decades of believing that a team coming back from a 0-3 series deficit was about as likely as witnessing Big Foot emerge from a landed UFO on the White House lawn, we've now seen it happen three times in the last 12 months.
The Flyers came back all the way to win four straight against the Boston Bruins last season, and the Chicago Blackhawks gave Vancouver Canucks fans heart attacks by forcing a Game 7 after being dominated in the first three games of their first-round series this year.
Will they follow the path of the Flyers last year or end up in the same boat as the Blackhawks this year?
My gut tells me the former will prove to be true.
Now, San Jose Sharks fans may be quick to point to the Vancouver-Chicago series as evidence that, just like the Canucks, the Sharks will end up winning Game 7 at home, citing home-ice advantage and "recent history" as reasons why.
This makes no sense whatsoever.
Aside from the fact that these are two completely different teams, the gap in talent and depth between the Canucks and Blackhawks in the first round was huge.
It took a collective collapse on the part of the Canucks, combined with a simultaneous surge on the part of the Blackhawks, to get that series to seven games.
This has not been the case in this series.
The gap between these two teams has been razor thin, and each team has won games the other could just as easily have won.
This has not been, nor will it be, a mirror image of the Vancouver-Chicago series.
Despite Detroit's run of three straight victories, the difference between these two clubs can still be measured in centimeters.
Game 7 will undoubtedly be the toughest game to win, for both teams.
However, there's five reasons to believe that, if you're a betting guy or gal, your money would be safest if put on Detroit.
Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MAhutter12
Detroit's Best Players Are the Best Players, Period
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
In a series this tight, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to which team's best players are better, even slightly better, than the others.
In this case, there's nothing slight about the difference between Detroit's top two forwards and their counterparts in San Jose.
Patrick Marleau has zero points and a minus-two rating in this series, and his teammate, Joe Thornton, has five points and a minus-two rating.
These men were San Jose's top two offensive forwards this season.
By contrast, Pavel Datsyuk has eight points and a plus-three rating in this series, and Henrik Zetterberg has seven points and a plus-six rating.
Like Marleau and Thornton, these two also served as Detroit's top offensive forwards this season.
"The numbers don't matter," you say?
Then what about the one-on-one battles between Marleau and Datsyuk in Game 5 and the one-on-one battles between Thornton and Zetterberg in Game 6?
In both cases, neither of the former players could do anything about the latter players doing whatever the hell they wanted with the puck.
If the old adage of "your best players have to be your best players" has any truth to it, and we've got nearly nine decades of NHL hockey to prove that it does, both Marleau and Thornton will have to outplay Datsyuk and Zetterberg in order for the Sharks to win Game 7.
Good luck with that.
Doubt vs. Belief
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
If you saw any of the Sharks after Game 3, you saw a bunch of guys just as pleased as punch with themselves, all smiles and swagger, confident in the belief that it was just a matter of time before they dispatched the Red Wings for the second straight year in Round 2.
By Game 5, those smiles started to fade a bit, and by the end of Game 6, any expression the Sharks did have you couldn't see, as their faces were now firmly buried in their hands.
Many in the hockey world believe the Sharks are simply doing in this series what they've unfortunately perfected over the past several seasons: choking.
They've got every reason in the world to prove those people wrong in Game 7, but there's no getting around the fact that whether or not they will choke is now surrounded in doubt.
The Red Wings believe they are on the path to a series victory and with it, NHL history.
The Sharks will have to believe the same is true for them, but their faith will have to be that much stronger than Detroit's in order for them to make a Game 7 victory a reality.
Jimmy Freakin' Howard
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
There's but one reason the Red Wings even got to a Game 6, and Jimmy Howard is it.
Going back to last year's playoffs, Jimmy Howard is now 5-1 in elimination games.
He has firmly established himself as a clutch playoff goalie, and he's shown no signs of deviating from that role in this series.
His counterpart in San Jose, Antti Niemi, is also a top-flight goalie and should be a very tough nut to crack in Game 7.
However, Niemi has now lost three straight games his team needed to win, and Howard has won three straight games his team could not afford to lose.
Which guy would you want in net in Game 7?
Mike Babcock Could Move Mountains with His Will Alone
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Before Game 6, Mike Babcock pulled Valtteri Filppula aside and told him in no uncertain terms that he felt the young Finnish forward was not as good as he needed to be so far in this series.
Before Game 6, Mike Babcock informed the world and his team that the Red Wings will be boarding Red Bird II on Wednesday morning and will be bound for San Jose.
After Game 6, Valtteri Filppula emerged with two points, including the game-winning goal.
After Game 6, the Red Wings boarded Red Bird II en route to San Jose.
I'm not sure if that's good coaching or simply bending reality to his will, but either way, Mike Babcock will not allow the Red Wings to lose Game 7 without his permission.
The Red Wings Have Planned Their Work and Worked Their Plan
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
When talking to the media after winning Game 6, be it Dan Cleary, Jimmy Howard, Nicklas Lidstrom or Mike Babcock, each man looked about as surprised about tying this series at three games as they would upon waking up in the morning to find their legs still attached to their bodies.
The Red Wings expected this to happen.
From the moment the horn sounded to end Game 3, the Red Wings went about their work expecting to win the next four games.
After going up 3-0, the Sharks are surprised this series is where it's at; the Red Wings are not.
The Red Wings' calm, business-like resolve indicates that not only are they not surprised to have come back from an 0-3 series deficit, they won't be that surprised should they complete the comeback with a win in Game 7.
Doing so has been their plan since losing Game 3.