Sharks Collapse, Series Returns to Motown

SAN JOSE- For about 41 minutes of on ice action, it felt as if history was due to repeat itself for the second straight season. The San Jose Sharks looked poised to eliminate the Red Wings in five games to advance to the Western Conference finals for the second year in a row. An early third period goal by Sharks rookie center Logan Couture re-stored a two-goal advantage but three unanswered Detroit goals saw the Red Wings take Game 5 by a 4-3 final.

Shocked…would be the word to describe the sellout crowd in San Jose on Sunday evening. The Sharks out-shot the Red Wings nearly 2-1 for the game as they directed 42 pucks towards Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard compared to just 22 sent the way of Antti Niemi.

Through two periods and a minute of the third, the Sharks were by far the better team. Outside of a brilliant play by Wings star Pavel Datsyuk to set up a Niklas Kronwall goal to cut San Jose’s lead to 2-1 in the second period, Detroit’s go to scorers weren’t performing to their capabilities.

However, after CoutureĀ  put San Jose up 3-1, the Red Wings came right back with a goal of their own a little less than three minutes later when defenseman Jonathan Ericsson notched his first of the postseason.

Now both Detroit goals up until this point had come within three minutes of a Sharks goal, a trend that almost cost San Jose in their first round series with the Los Angeles Kings.

In that series the Sharks let up a combined total of 10 goals within three minutes and change of a another goal. Through the first four games of this series, San Jose had done a better job in this regard.

Unfortunately on Sunday, the trend resurfaced in a flash. Not only did the Sharks—a team often praised for composure and poise—allow the Red Wings to notch quick response goals, but even worse, they allowed Detroit to score goals in quick succession.

Again, for a team in San Jose which often gets complimented for their even-keel attitude, they do seem to have a tendency for allowing goals shortly after goals of their own or by the opposition.

Dan Cleary’s tying goal came within two minutes of Ericsson’s goal and perhaps some credit has to be thrown Detroit’s way for seizing momentum but the Sharks have to figure out a way to do a better job on the immediate shifts following a goal.

The three third period goals by the Red Wings came on just six shots, one of the most opportunistic periods you’ll ever see in a playoff game. One would think in the playoffs leads would be held onto, but in the past two games in particular that hasn’t been the case.

“If you look at the whole series, we were up 3-0 in our building and they wouldn’t go away” chimed Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock. “It’s frantic hockey, you’re pro’s and your supposed to be composed and under control [but] that’s not what I see both ways.”

In a way, neither team has executed to a level expected of them with third period leads being blown on both sides. Babock hits the nail on the head in his description of the series.

Tonight it was San Jose’s turn to lose composure and focus defensively with a lead late in the game. And in particular the easiest scapegoat target has to be alternate captain Patrick Marleau.

Two different Bay Area columnists wrote stories about his zero points in this series after the first four games (despite not noticeably playing poorly) and that has now continued through five games.

That said, it was Marleau’s defensive miscues in Sunday’s game five that cost his team dearly. Not only was the former captain made to look silly when he stabbed awkwardly at the puck and subsequently lost position on Kronwall (a play that lead directly to Cleary’s tying goal) but it was also his failed clearing attempt that led to Tomas Holmstrom’s game winner.

San Jose fans have seen this script before. In 2007 a poor defensive play by Marleau turned what should have been a 3-1 series lead for San Jose into a 2-2 series and the Sharks lost in six games to these same Red Wings.

Through four games, it wasn’t an issue that he hadn’t scored, but with the defensive mistakes on Sunday the scoreless drought becomes that much more visible.

Did the Red Wings get some tremendous play from their squad in the third period? Certainly. Datsyuk in particular was amazing in the final frame and had three assists on the night, but the tying and go-ahead goals came directly off egregious mistakes by Marleau.

Those poor plays have postponed what otherwise should be (but now might not be) a upbeat handshake for the Sharks with the Red Wings at the end of this series.

Game six is back in Detroit and anything can happen.

 

Notes: Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi also scored for San Jose.

Jamie McGinn saw his first action of the series for San Jose.

 

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