Wings' latest, greatest rally could spell doom for crumbling Sharks
Detroit is vying to become the 4th team in history to rally from a 0-3 series hole
The Sharks, sadly, have a history of folding during key playoff series
San Jose will have its home fans for Game 7 -- but the pressure's certainly on
It just never gets old in Detroit. Presidents change office, entire generations of technology become hip and passé. But the Red Wings just never seem to change.
It's going to be one tense night for Sharks fans Thursday night at HP Pavilion. Their team is one more loss away from doing something only three other teams in NHL history has done: Lose four straight after taking a 3-0 lead in best-of-seven playoff series.
Down a goal midway through the third period in Game 6, the Red Wings forced a seventh game with a 3-1 win at Joe Louis Arena, forcing a Game 7 in the Western Conferene semifinals.
The Wings were supposed to be too tired to come back and make a series of this, a team on Ambien. Now, they're just ambient.
Pavel Datsyuk is so good that he can beat you with one hand tied behind his back. The Red Wings center, still with an injured hand that limits his faceoffs, was transcendent for a second straight third-period comeback win.
Datsyuk was on the ice for the Wings' two even-strength goals that put them ahead 2-1, after San Jose's Logan Couture scored at 3:54 of the third for the game's first goal. Datsyuk looked like he might have gotten a stick blade on the tying goal at 10:38 -- which went to Henrik Zetterberg -- and made a gorgeous crossing pass that set up Valtteri Filppula's game-winner at 12:32.
The sold-out crowd at the Joe, as loud as any building in these playoffs so far, serenaded their team to "Sweet Caroline" when it was over.
The Sharks, meanwhile, are in familiar terrain. Only Shaun Cassidy in his prime has broken more hearts than the Bay Area's hockey team.
True, home teams have won Game 7s of a playoff series more than 60 percent of the time, but does anyone want to put a big bet down on the Sharks Thursday night?
Antti Niemi almost stole this one for his team. But the Sharks goalie finally was solved, when Zetterberg tipped Niklas Kronwall's blast from the point, with Datysuk setting a screen even deeper in the crease area.
Sharks fans looking for players to blame can start with Dany Heatley, who had another lackluster offensive showing and was on the ice for Detroit's first two goals. Patrick Marleau, called "gutless" by former teammate Jeremy Roenick after Game 5, did not exactly shove it back in his face with his play. Marleau had no points and one shot on net in 18:58 of ice time.
But, really, the Red Wings were a great team in Game 6. They outshot San Jose 45-25 and had the puck on the end of a string all night, while the Sharks flailed away trying to get it. Datsyuk's brilliance can't be overstated, despite the modest final scoring total: One assist. Right now, something dangerous is happening on his every shift, and now he's got two more days to rest his "bad" hand.
San Jose will no doubt say all the right things leading up to Game 7.
"This is why we played so hard in the regular season, to have this game happen on our home ice," they'll say.
But right now, this is a matchup between a tested, Original Six franchise with four Stanley Cup rings since 1997 against the Chicago Cubs on ice.
For Red Wings fans, this is the fun time of the year. For Sharks fans, it's getting old.
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings: Datsyuk didn't score a goal, finishing with just one assist. But he was again the best player on the ice in Game 6. Datsyuk zigged and zagged past one Sharks player after another, despite still having an injured hand. He was on the ice for Detroit's tying goal in the third period -- credited to Henrik Zetterberg -- and made just a brilliant crossing pass to Valtteri Filppula for the game-winner not long after. If this is supposed to be how Datsyuk plays when he's not 100 percent, heaven help any remaining playoff team if he fully heals up.
2. Valtteri Filppula, Red Wings: When Detroit really starts to get things rolling, it's always guys like Filppula who fill in any gaps in the team. That Filppula filled in the open left lane for Datsyuk to cross the puck over for the winning goal was a big reason for Detroit's win. He also assisted on Zetterberg's equalizer. With Johan Franzen unable to go in Game 6 with a sore ankle, Filppula's effort was invaluable to coach Mike Babcock.
3. Antti Niemi, Sharks: Niemi was tremendous for the game's first 50 minutes, but he proved human in the end. Niemi stopped 42-of-44 shots and, for a while, looked like he might steal this thing when the clock slipped to under 10 minutes. His Sharks teammates can't leave it up to him to be this good again in Game 7. If they do, the Wings will almost certainly travel to Vancouver for Game 1 of the Western finals Saturday -- and the Sharks will be going home.