In what could be the defining moment in San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s tenure so far, Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings looms ahead. Facing a collapse that has only been seen three times since 1939, the Sharks realize exactly what situation they are in.
A team that struggled during the early parts of the season, the one that blew home-ice advantage in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, or the one that was dominated in Detroit in Game 6.
Whatever flavor of doubt you prefer, the San Jose Sharks will beat the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 on Thursday night.
This is, of course, no disrespect intended to the Red Wings or their players, because they are as deadly as they come in the playoffs, as any fan of the NHL can attest to. The series has been far from one-sided, and been a back and forth battle to the end as initially expected.
Outside of the 3-0 series lead, who would have really doubted this series could go to 7 games? Nobody should be surprised at this outcome with an opponent like the Red Wings.
Here then are the five reasons the San Jose Sharks will win Game 7 and move on to their second consecutive Western Conference finals.
The Detroit Red Wings have proven to be the deeper team, but the Sharks fourth line has been ineffective almost all postseason.
Granted, you aren’t expecting much out of 5-7 minutes of ice time, but you can’t be a defensive liability—in the playoffs, that’s all the Sharks fourth line has been good for.
It isn’t a new trend either, as the quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings was as ugly as it got for the San Jose fourth liners.
Two things remain the same between those two series however, as Ben Eager was scratched on several occasions. The reasons why Ben Eager hasn’t started in since Game 2 aren’t important, only the results are. In Game 6, Eager gave the fourth line someone with speed and size.
The Sharks need his speed and his playoff experience in Game 7, and could Game 2 hero youngster Benn Ferriero get the start over Jamie McGinn?
Scott Nichol has also gotten back to his faceoff form against a smaller Detroit team after struggling against the bruising Kings, and will play a huge role in Game 7.
Ryane Clowe missed Game 6 with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and did not practice with the team Wednesday. But it’s hard to believe he’s going to be sitting this game out against the Detroit Red Wings—barring a broken leg, Clowe will play in Game 7.
Ryane Clowe coming back in Game 7 could possibly be the biggest factor for deciding the series, and that’s without counting the fact that he’s the Sharks' leading scorer.
His presence clears room for his linemates and his determined play inspires them. Not only that, but the Sharks become increasingly thin without him. Game 6 featured a mishmash of line combinations that affected the team early on and they couldn’t recover.
He’s been clutch for the Sharks all season long, and his health will play a large role in the San Jose forecheck and play in the crease.
Benn Ferriero is a great prospect, but it’s clear that he’s not ready for 18 minutes of ice time against a team of such caliber as the Red Wings are.
His play will allow McLellan to return to the line combinations that brought him this far, most importantly the Sharks third line of Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood.
The powerplay has gone scoreless in their last 10, and many of the shots are again uncontested and lacking of scoring quality.
Sloppy play and a lackadaisical presence with the puck led to too many turnovers that killed any Sharks momentum. Game 6 looked like almost every other first pass out of the San Jose zone went directly to a Red Wing in the neutral zone.
San Jose must return to basics and play a simpler game to win Game 7, because many of the turnovers and errors are mental ones. These cannot happen in Game 7 and it’s a trait that plagued them in Game 2 of the quarterfinal round against the Los Angeles Kings.
They must also have a firm grasp of when to shoot; quality over quantity must be the motto in Game 7. Inflated shot totals haven’t exactly been a winning ingredient in San Jose Shark playoff history, as many fans can attest to.
The Sharks defense will also improve as the Sharks' third pairing of White-Wallin has been caught too far out of position many times during the three-game slide. The success the duo enjoyed early in the series has caused them some problems, but the good thing is they can just be more selective.
After their minus-3 performance in Game 5, these two must improve their play in their own end and pick their spots carefully to minimize risk.
Niemi has been heating up as of late, despite his three-game slide, but the team has failed him in the third period over the last three games. His play in Game 6 was nothing short of spectacular, and he’ll be great again in Game 7 where his championship pedigree will shine.
Some may point to his third period collapses, but when the team forgets to play defense in front of you it's hard to stop a team like Detroit from scoring.
Jimmy Howard and Antti Niemi have squared off magnificently this series, and flashed brilliance when their teams needed it the most.
Howard doesn’t have the experience of Niemi however, and that may prove to be the deciding factor. He’s been relatively untested in Game 4 and 6, stopping 25 shots or less on both occasions. But if the Sharks continue to take the easy shots without the proper presence in front of Jimmy Howard, he will be difficult to solve.
In Game 6, words could not do justice for Niemi’s performance, being left out to dry multiple times including late in the third period against Zetterberg and Holmstrom.
He had 32 saves after two periods, and the Sharks blocked 12 more in that same time frame showing a clear indication of who was winning the puck battles.
Niemi has saved the Sharks season uncountable times this year, and he’ll be his best on Thursday night because he’s won on bigger stages before.
While the Sharks obviously have not won the Stanley Cup, they have been in the Game 6 situation before. While their performance in Game 6 isn’t a very good one by any means, it wasn’t too different than Game 4 in the 2010 playoffs.
San Jose was blitzed as the Detroit Red Wings or, more specifically, Johan Franzen staved off elimination 7-1 and forced a Game 5. That performance looked every bit as horrible as Game 6, if not worse, and it failed to cause the Sharks to "choke" as many predicted it would.
The special teams also responded against Detroit after that poor showing, killing the Boyle penalty with just 55 seconds left in Game 5.
This year San Jose has outplayed the Detroit Red Wings for the better part of the series, outside of the late rallies and Game 6.
San Jose will need more play like that to win Game 7 to neutralize what’s been a very effective Red Wings power play.
With both teams playing in such a similar style, everyone knows everything which means it really boils down to puck possession. Zone starts and puck possession will again be key, only the Sharks have the decided edge in faceoffs and zone wins.
Detroit has one of the very best in Pavel Datysuk, but he has a wrist injury and took just eight draws in Game 6, going 4-of-8.
The Sharks have done well in the faceoff circle, especially Joe Thornton who has gone through long undefeated stretches in the dot this playoff series.
He’s got excellent numbers against almost every Red Wing, including Henrik Zetterberg and will play a huge role in all three zone starts.
Many of you right now may be scoffing, but really it just isn’t the same Sharks team as years past, despite the lack of true roster turnover.
San Jose has been a resilient team that has bought into the system and played some of the best hockey the franchise has ever seen. After suffering through a losing streak unseen since 1997, this is the team that rebounded, winning 17 of their next 20 games.
The same team that rocketed up the Western Conference standings in the second half, the one that rallied back from a four-goal deficit in the second period of Game 3 against L.A. before winning in OT.
San Jose became the fourth team in NHL playoff history to come back from being four goals down and win the game. Joining the Minnesota North Stars (1985 vs. Chicago) and the Kings (1982 vs.Edmonton) and Montreal (1971 vs. Boston), the Sharks have faced insurmountable odds this season already.
The Sharks haven’t batted an eye when facing those odds, and they will respond in Game 7 to close out this series. It’s tough enough to win in the NHL playoffs, but four in a row against any team is very difficult, including one that knows and plays the same system you do.
We’ve all seen the Jeremy Roenick snippets with his suggestions of Patrick Marleau lacking heart and playing “gutless hockey.” While I won’t pretend that Marleau is the model NHL leader in the NHL playoffs, Roenick couldn’t be further off-base with his personal attack.
I’ll admit that Marleau doesn’t have quite the track record that many NHL “superstars” do but, make no mistake, Marleau can still score with the best of them in the playoffs.
Coming into this playoff season, Marleau is still among the league leaders in playoff goals since 2002 and ranks third or better in short-handers, even strength and power play tallies.
He rediscovered his touch in last year’s playoffs, posting 13 points in 14 playoff games, including two game-winners. He’s also among league leaders in playoff game-winning goals, with 10 in the past seven years.
The majority of his 13 points came after Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings.
After missing Game 1 due to “flu symptoms,” Marleau would step up his play in response to the suggestions, spoken or otherwise. Heading into Game 2, Marleau faced similar questions and media distractions as he is now, and rose to the challenge then and will again in Game 7.
He’ll respond and help lead the San Jose Sharks to their second consecutive Western Conference Finals.