I know, I know: Todd McLellan hates to call any game the team is not facing elimination a must-win. The fact is the Detroit Red Wings still have three games to win and clinch nothing by winning Saturday night.
But after a 7-1 blowout loss like the one the San Jose Sharks suffered Thursday night, they clearly not only let the fighter off the ropes at Joe Louis Arena, but took several stunning blows to the face. A game like that can send a team reeling.
Fortunately, the bell sounded and they got to go to the corner and regroup. All they have to do now is go back to landing more punches than they take.
But you never want to go on the road after letting your opponent take two games in a row: Detroit would have the momentum and the home ice.
With those elements working for them, they would be favoured to win Game Six, giving them even more mojo with the Sharks having even more pressure for Game Seven.
Moreover, the Sharks are in a worse position than most teams up 3-1 in this regard:
1. The Sharks are facing the heavyweight champion: Detroit is the two-time defending Western Conference champion that, the year before attaining that status, came back from the brink of a 3-1 series deficit against San Jose to win three in a row and advance. They have been there, done that.
2. San Jose, on the other hand, is in new territory: The only players to get this far (three wins in round two) as members of the Sharks are Patty Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, and that was six years ago.
3. Their past: They already bear the weight of the team that cannot finish—that chokes—and whether one thinks it is justified or not, if one gets called something enough it naturally starts to be convincing. If they lose this game, the questions about their mettle all come back to the surface; with their confidence shaken, the pressure may become overwhelming.
This does not mean the Wings have the advantage in this series. The Sharks still have been the better team for much of the series. They came out strong in the first period and nearly took a lead with a couple early scoring chances.
Then they suffered a couple unfortunate bounces: There was a goal that went in off a defender (a problem that has happened enough times in these playoffs to no longer attribute to bad luck—they need to address this recurring problem), and another that bounced right to the hottest shooter on the night.
After that, they quit playing. That is not a good sign, but it is not the end of the world. In fact, there are positives to this loss and a lot of reason for optimism.
It is just that the negatives will overtake the positives if the Sharks do not win Game Five at home.