Wednesday, May 11, 2011

With Game 7 set, can Sharks possibly stop Red Wings’ rally?

Eighteen shots in the first period. Fourteen in the second. Pucks off posts, just missing wide, hitting defensemen's sticks, getting swallowed up in desperation saves by Antti Niemi.

The Detroit Red Wings entered Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals as they did Game 5 and Game 4 ? playing for their lives. Only this time they came out and kicked the San Jose Sharks' collective ass for 40 minutes at the Joe … with nothing to show for it.

Logan Couture's goal at 3:54 of the third, just inching over the goal line, seemed to point this game towards your classic "one team is dramatically outplayed yet wins by happenstance" scenario. But that's not where it ended up, thanks to big plays by the Red Wings and lapses by the Sharks.

"You score that goal, you thought it might be enough. But it wasn't," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton.

Detroit wins, 3-1. The series stands at 3-3. Game 7, and the Wings' chance to be the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, is Thursday night back in San Jose. Who ya got?

On the Wings' game-tying goal, the Sharks were outhustled and out of position:

No one picked up Niklas Kronwall on the change. He was either Dany Heatley's or Logan Couture's guy, and he was given a free shot from the point. Meanwhile, Henrik Zetterberg made a superb deflection to duck the puck under Niemi's glove to tie it 1-1.

The game-winner … well, it's been that kind of postseason for Pavel Datsyuk:

Valtteri Filppula dished to Datsyuk and then made a beeline for the net. The problem for San Jose was that both Couture and Pavelski were protecting against the pass, Dany Heatley was watching he blue line, and Jason Demers was caught up in the gravity of Planet Holmstrom. Datsyuk made the kind of pass that would be arduous for others but that he makes look perfunctory, and Filppula had the layup for the 2-1 lead and the eventual game-winner.

After that, the Wings were flying, breaking up chances and protecting Jimmy Howard. San Jose was given a late power play on a holding call by Justin Abdelkader, and it was a scrambling mess. Again, the Sharks were pathetic with the man advantage, going 0-for-4 with 5 shots.

Again, they lose what amounts to a 1-goal game.

"We didn't play very good. The score should've been 5-1 or 6-1. Nemo gave us a chance to steal one and we let him down. So we're gonna have to move on from this. And we've got one way to save our season, to continue to play," said Couture. "I know no one in this room that wants to end their season next game. So we better fight a lot harder than we did tonight."

Dany Heatley? One shot, two misses and a minus-2 despite an assist. Joe Thornton? Some decent moments, but 3 shots, 2 misses and a minus-1. Patrick "Gutless" Marleau? Zero points, one shot, one shot blocked and one miss. He couldn't have been more invisible if he were wearing a magic cloak from Hogwarts. This after being called out by everyone from his coach to Jeremy Roenick. Embarrassing doesn't cut it.

Why mention the Big 3? Because with Ryane Clowe out, they needed something from them in Game 6. They got nothing. And now there's a Game 7.

Is their confidence shaken?

"Just ask Detroit, they lost three in a row and their confidence wasn't frayed," said Thornton. "We're a confident group, still. You work 82 games to get home ice in these Game 7's. Now we just have to make it work.''

The momentum, the confidence, the determination … it's all on the side of the Winged Wheel at this point. The Sharks knew after losing Game 4 in Detroit they just needed to win one of three. That's still the case. But the margin for error is gone.

I've been saying for weeks that these Sharks are different. That they're made of sterner stuff than the disappointments of postseasons past. Yet they can't hold a lead in the third period. They can't hold a lead in a semifinal series. They can't score on the power play. They just ... can't.

It's a one-game series. And the smart money is on the Red Wings, as inconceivable as this scenario is.

Doesn't this just sum it up?

With additional reporting by Nicholas Cotsonika from Detroit.

Radha Mitchell Melissa Rycroft Chloƫ Sevigny Janet Jackson Georgianna Robertson

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