SAN JOSE- In what often times can be a detriment to the San Jose Sharks, Team Teal looked as polished as ever in Sunday’s matinee Game 2 against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Sharks have struggled historically in afternoon games including last year’s Game 1 of the Western Conference final but the Sharks put together another tremendous effort in front of their home fans Sunday.
With a second straight 2-1 final, the Sharks take a 2-0 series lead with them back to HockeyTown.
Now Detroit did manage to bounce back with a much better performance in Game Two, but costly mistakes early and a sputtering power-play enabled the Sharks to take the early lead. While the Red Wings essentially doubled up the Sharks in first period shots (12-7), the Sharks were the only side to light the lamp as Ian White scored on San Jose’s first power-play of the game.
With Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader in the box for high sticking (the first of four offensive zone penalties taken by Detroit), White had time and space at the center of the right point thanks to a nice stick-handling move and pass from teammate Dany Heatley.
“[Heatley] did a good job of taking some of the pressure and just found me up top,” said White about the goal. “Their guy didn’t pressure me at all so I had time to take a look and find the corner.”
Shortly thereafter the Sharks’ fourth line got caught running around in their own zone as Detroit looked to find the equalizer quickly. The shift ended in a Benn Ferriero double minor for high sticking Abdelkader.
Fortunately for San Jose, the penalty kill came up huge, killing off the entire four minutes before Dan Boyle wowed the crowd with a filthy one on one move past a defender ending with a good chance on net. Howard made the save and held onto the puck for a whistle as the home fans gave the Sharks a standing ovation for their penalty killing effort.
Detroit would dominate the face-off circle as well as the shot-clock in the first period but the opening stanza by no means felt like a period titled significantly in the Red Wings favor. Combine some excellent penalty killing by San Jose and a second offensive zone penalty taken by Henrik Zetterberg late in the period and the Sharks got plenty of chances despite being out-played statistically.
The penalty Zetterberg took in a sense defined the game for the Red Wings as Detroit’s leading scorer carelessly flipped his stick onto the back of Heatley’s helmet as the Sharks forward skated out of his own zone. Detroit would go onto commit two more offensive zone penalties in the game and have seemed to let San Jose get under their skin.
“They’re a scoring team,” commented Sharks defenseman Jason Demers. “Frustration is going to set in at some point.”
San Jose’s second year defenseman nearly owed Antti Niemi dinner when a costly mistake sent Darren Helm on a short-handed breakaway in the second period but Niemi came up with the save. Outside of the one clear mistake, Demers played yet another excellent game, saw over 20 minutes in ice and got under the skin of veteran Tomas Holmstrom.
With the Red Wings on the power-play in the third period, Demers drew a roughing call on Holmstrom after the two had been chirping before the face-off. Not usually do you see a second year player getting the better of a savvy veteran but in this case Demers stepped up to draw the penalty ending Detroit’s man advantage.
Some of that frustration from the Red Wings in the final 20 minutes clearly came from a middle period that saw the Sharks take control of the game without scoring. After a relatively evenly played opening period, the Sharks took it to Detroit in the second, out-shooting the Wings, 19-9.
Not only did San Jose carry the bulk of the play in the offensive zone but the few dynamite chances from the Red Wings were stymied by Niemi, the game’s first star, who had by far his best game of the postseason to date.
Niemi robbed Zetterberg mid-way through the period while the Sharks were on the penalty kill and the Red Wings finished off the period with a flurry of chances that Niemi stopped in rapid succession.
For the majority of the period however, it was Jimmy Howard at the other end putting on a goaltending clinic.
Detroit’s netminder stopped 35 of 37 shots for the game, but his two most noteworthy saves came during the middle period. The first of which coming off a shot by Dan Boyle while the Sharks were on the power-play. Howard had to push across from left to right and Boyle’s one timer went back to left but Howard somehow caught a piece of it with his glove. The other most notable stop came on a Heatley re-direct off a slap shot taken by Niclas Wallin. Fighting through a screen Howard slid across and got his right pad to the near post in time to make the save on what appeared to be a sure goal.
Unfortunately for Howard, one mistake early in the third ended up being the difference in the game.
Just 1:39 into the final period, a harmless looking wrist shot from Wallin off the rush on the wing hit Howard in the shoulder and tumbled into the net behind him. Wallin—whose nickname is the “Secret Weapon” for when he scored three playoff overtime goals as a Carolina Hurricane—has never scored more than four goals in any regular season but had yet another bounce go his way in the postseason.
With just over six minutes remaining in the third, the Red Wings power-play would finally light the lamp to cut the deficit in half. Pavel Datsyuk set up Zetterberg with a neat little centering pass and the Swede buried it past Niemi from between the circles. From then on out the Wings had the Sharks on their heels until the final buzzer but a key defensive zone face-off win by Joe Thornton with 13 seconds left sealed the victory for San Jose.
Both games saw the winning goal come from an unlikely source but with the Red Wings coming out on the short end of the special teams battle, bounces here and there can become decisive plays.
“Those are freebees you just give away” commented Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock, referencing his team’s sub par power-play and lack of discipline.
If the Red Wings are going to change the momentum of this series when they return home for Games 3 and 4, they will almost certainly have to come out on the winning end of special teams.
With San Jose playing excellent in all three zones and proving to be the better team at even strength, the Red Wings must find a way to start converting power-play opportunities at a higher rate than their 1-8 mark thus far in the series.