2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Game 5 Recap
Western Conference Semifinal Game 5 - Detroit 4, San Jose 3 – Sharks lead series, 3-2
After repeating the same pattern from 2010, the Detroit Red Wings – with knives at their throats – decided to chart a different course, and now, one of the proudest franchises in all of hockey has a genuine pulse, not just the faint heartbeat of an animal about to die.
Last year, the Wings dug themselves a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks, won Game 4 at home, and then lost Game 5 in Silicon Valley. Having made the same journey through Game 4 this time around, the Winged Wheel was once again staring at a five-game exit from the second round of the playoffs, and when San Jose’s Logan Couture scored just 54 seconds into the third period at HP Pavilion on Sunday night in central California, the Sharks – leading 3-1 in both the series and in Game 5 – were about to dismiss Detroit in all-too-familiar fashion. The Wings, champions in 2008 and runners-up in 2009, were about to be ushered off the postseason stage by the Sharks for the second straight season. Detroit was about to meet a quick and decisive defeat at the hands of an opponent that had seemingly mastered the art of defusing the Wings’ speed and open-ice skating skills.
Then, out of nowhere, Detroit found a way to author a decidedly different narrative. In one inspired third period, the Wings breathed life into their season and this series. In bim-bam-boom fashion, the team with 20 straight playoff appearances ambushed the franchise that has never made the Stanley Cup Finals… and must now dig a little deeper in order to advance.
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At the 3:43 mark of the third period, Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson pounced on a loose puck between the face-off circles and beat San Jose goalie Antti Niemi with a 12-foot shot to make the score 3-2 in favor of the Sharks. At the 5:29 mark, San Jose’s suddenly-porous defense sprang another leak, as Daniel Cleary gained complete freedom at the right doorstep of the goal mouth. He whacked at the puck repeatedly and stuffed the rubber over the goal line to knot the score at 3-all. In less than two minutes, the Wings – on their deathbed – gained immediate resuscitation, shifting all the pressure onto the backs of the Sharks, who suddenly looked frantic after exhibiting pronounced control for the first 43 minutes of play. With the Wings carrying the play in the third period, Detroit desperately wanted to avoid overtime, given the fact that the Sharks are 5-0 in extra sessions in these playoffs.
Sure enough, the Wings – as was the case on Darren Helm’s goal late in Game 4 – found the winner before a fourth period was ever necessary. Pavel Datsyuk – playing with one arm after getting injured in Game 4 – somehow held onto the puck through multiple spins in traffic. He set up defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who ripped a shot from the point that Tomas Holmstrom tipped above Niemi’s shoulder and into the net at 13:52 of the third. The Wings killed off a San Jose power play just moments later and then held off the Sharks in the final minute, as the second seed in the Western Conference pulled Niemi for an extra attacker. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard stoned the Sharks in the final 90 seconds, capping a brilliant night in which he stopped 39 shots to keep Detroit in the fight over the course of the first two periods.
Now, we have a series, and suddenly, the narrative of 2010 doesn’t mean very much anymore.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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