Game 1 of this series was dictated by team defense, with forwards collapsing and goaltenders benefiting from clear vision of the puck. Some chances were there both ways, but breakdowns were few and far between, and some fortunate bounces led to the only goals of the game.
In Game 2, the defensemen were much more aggressive both ways. While the game was still relatively tight, the Sharks' blue-liners extra edge of assertiveness completely changed this game and gave the Sharks a game two victory.
After killing an early Detroit power play, the Sharks got a man advantage of their own in the when Justin Abdelkader went to the box for his second high-stick in as many periods. Dan Boyle and Ian White did an excellent job cycling the the puck in and leading the breakout after a couple Detroit clears.
Finally, San Jose got set up with screens on Howard. Detroit attempted to defend their net with an extra body down low, and the Sharks took the extra ice. Ian White received a pass from Dany Heatley, and, skating in, fired a shot to the far side against his momentum. The shot was on target, and Howard had absolutely no vision of the puck.
Dan Boyle generated a golden scoring chance later in the first, taking the puck into the Detroit zone and beating multiple Red Wings before being denied by a quick, Jimmy Howard glove save in front of the net. Boyle looks like himself again so far in this series, something San Jose absolutely needs.
The Sharks once again came out strong in the second period, controlling play nearly the whole way. Boyle and White continued to jump up into the play and send pucks purposefully towards the net, as did usual offensive D-man Jason Demers.
Douglas Murray was an absolute force in Game 2. He made countless neutralizing plays on the boards and delivered a textbook, clean, demolishing open-ice hit to Darren Helm. Murray stepped beyond his usual defensive game as well, and provided a huge offensive boost. He showed some rare puck handling and aggressiveness, driving the net and creating a great-scoring chance. He also used his big body on the side boards to help forechecking forwards win pucks back to San Jose. Finally, a set play from the point late in the second had Murray fire a puck off Heatley' blade—a sure goal if Howard wasn't in great position.
Niclas Wallin played with the same aggressiveness that he brought to Game 1, and offensive contribution from the third-pairing D-man ended up being the difference in the game. Wallin recognized an opportunity to enter the zone with some room early in the third period, and called for a cross-ice pass from Ryane Clowe on the breakout. He took it in stride, skated past his man and fired a powerful high wrist shot that Jimmy Howard couldn't glove, but rather attempted to fight off. Howard got a piece of it, but not enough. The puck bounced over his shoulder and into the back of the net.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn't do much offensively, but didn't need to with all five other blue-liners leading the way. Vlasic was very good defensively and on the PK, making a couple key plays and blocking four shots to help preserve San Jose's lead.
In a matchup featuring two teams this deep, everyone looks for slight advantages either way when handicapping the series. Many thought San Jose had more firepower at forward, but Detroit's blue-line was deeper. This may very well be true, but the fact is that these two teams are incredibly close in talent at every position. Every game in this series should be tight defensively, featuring good defensive zone team play and excellent goaltending. But when an entire blue-line can do what the Sharks D-men did tonight in all three zones, the advantage clearly swings one way.
Detroit can matchup with San Jose at essentially every position. But when Dan Boyle is putting eight quality shots on goal, the blue-line is giving the puck away twice in a game, Niclas Wallin and Ian White are blocking eight shots and scoring both San Jose goals and Douglas Murray is playing bigger than he already is, the Red Wings will be scrambling for an answer that may not be there.