SAN JOSE- The phrase “unlikely hero” is often used in sports when a role player comes through in the clutch. But when it comes to San Jose Sharks’ Benn Ferriero, “unlikely” just isn’t the right adjective.
“Completely unfathomable hero” better describes what went down at HP Pavilion on Friday night. Ferriero, still technically an NHL rookie, didn’t play at all in San Jose’s first round series against Los Angeles but on his 24th birthday scored the overtime game winner as the Sharks took Game One over the Detroit Red Wings.
The rookie right winger saw just 5:33 in ice time during his first career playoff game but a quick shot from the right circle deflected widely off Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart’s stick and past netminder Jimmy Howard at 7:03 of OT.
“You’ve got to be ready when you’re called upon” said Ferriero, who replaced veteran Jamal Mayers in the lineup. “When you get your chance you have to make the most of it”.
During the regular season Ferriero chipped in nine points in 33 games and even played in the season finale but with the veterans San Jose brought in during midseason it seemed highly unlikely for him to see any postseason action.
Perhaps one might think kudos are in order for Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan on making the lineup change but the Sharks coach was quick to deflect any credit.
“It wasn’t a genius move. I can tell you that” the coach said. “We just felt, looking at [Detroit's] lineup, that the way their third and fourth line played we needed certain ingredients.”
San Jose out-shot and out-chanced Detroit for the majority of the game but it wasn’t until midway through the third when they were first able to get one past Howard, who played phenomenal in nets for the Red Wings.
A first period goal by Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom set up beautifully by Pavel Datsyuk stood up as the game’s only tally for 40 minutes of action before the Sharks converted on the man advantage.
This time around it was the Sharks captain Joe Thornton leading the way as his slap shot from near the point rebounded up in the air where Pavelski swatted it baseball style past Howard.
“A little ping pong” responded Pavelski when asked if baseball practice helped on his tying goal.
The power-play marker proved huge for San Jose who struggled dearly in the previous series on the man-advantage.
While the power-play looked off at times and failed to convert on a four-minute chance during overtime, the one goal proved to be the difference.
Detroit came up empty on both of their chances and keeping their potent power-play off the board more often than not will lead to a victory for the opposing squad.
Along with winning the special teams battle in the series opener, the Sharks played much better in their own zone, and got a much better effort from goaltender Antti Niemi.
However Detroit Head coach Mike Babcock wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort.
“I thought their ‘D’ got the night off tonight” he said.
While Datsyuk and the Wings controlled the puck in the San Jose zone quite effectively throughout the game, Detroit didn’t seem to play the body quite as effectively in the offensive zone as the Sharks did at the other end.
San Jose dominated on the shot clock throughout the game and ended up with 46 shots to Detroit’s 25 but at no point did the game seem as lopsided as the shot total might suggest.
Most of San Jose’s shots came from the outside as Detroit’s defensive play looked much better than that of a team who finished in the bottom third of goals against during the regular season.
That said, the Sharks got just enough scoring to come away with the victory, something they’ve done in all but one of their five postseason victories thus far.
San Jose is now a perfect four for four in overtime during this postseason.
Does that make this year’s Sharks squad destined for raising the Stanley Cup?
Well after the historic four-goal comeback in Game Three of the Los Angeles series—which was also won in overtime—one Kings fan told me, “Mark it down, this is the year the Sharks win the Cup”.
Add in an overtime winner from the unlikeliest of sources, and it’s hard not to get that same feeling.