2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Game 6 Recap
Western Conference Semifinal Game 6 - Detroit 3, San Jose 1 – Series tied, 3-3
It didn’t seem remotely possible – not even for the mighty and proud Detroit Red Wings. Coming back from a 3-0 series deficit just doesn’t happen very often, even though it occurred last year when the Philadelphia Flyers raced past the Boston Bruins. Yet, with 60 minutes (or more) of inspired hockey, the men from Motown could indeed complete hockey’s second ultimate Houdini in a span of 12 months.
The Wings – dominant throughout the evening but stoned again and again by a white-hot goalie – stayed the course in the third period, scoring three times to turn back the San Jose Sharks and stave off elimination for a third straight game. Down 3-0 in the series after a dispiriting overtime loss last Wednesday, the Wings now have a date with destiny on Thursday evening in San Jose. If Detroit can go into Silicon Valley and prevail, a whole lot of history will be made in the National Hockey League.
It’s that kind of an era in hockey. In a sport that has seen three teams come back from three-game deficits to win playoff series, what first stands out about the teams that did the deed is that they emerged on the scene roughly a third of a century apart. The Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off the first 3-0 escape in 1942. The New York Islanders turned the trick in 1975. Then came the aforementioned Flyers in 2010. Sure, the miraculous happens once in a while, but not often enough to create new habits.
At least, that was the conventional wisdom. Maybe it’s time to retire it.
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Just two weeks ago, the Chicago Blackhawks – though they didn’t win the series – erased a 3-0 series deficit against the Vancouver Canucks. It was logical to think that there wouldn’t be another instance of a 3-0 series becoming a 3-3 series anytime soon. Yet, it took just two weeks – one playoff round – for the same scenario to unfold on the ice. Detroit has now replicated the Chicago comeback, and on Thursday, the Wings hope to take the extra step – the one the Blackhawks couldn’t make – in Game 7.
Why is this scenario at hand? It’s all because Detroit wouldn’t quit on Tuesday night before a raucous and enthralled crowd at Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City.
Detroit owned the first two periods, peppering San Jose goalie Antti Niemi with 32 shots compared to the Sharks’ total of 13 against Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard. Yet, Niemi – playing at the peak of his powers – morphed into the rock who guided the Blackhawks to their 2010 Stanley Cup title. He looked like Dominik Hasek on some snow-angel saves; he was quick with the glove like Marty Brodeur on others; and he used the boldness of Ed Belfour on still other shots. Niemi played as well as he could possibly play, and when teammate Logan Couture batted the puck between Howard’s legs and just over the goal line at 3:54 of the third period, the outplayed Sharks owned a 1-0 lead. Roughly 16 minutes separated the second seed from the Western Conference finals, and the Wings – at that moment – had every opportunity to slump their shoulders, resigned to a fate they could have accepted with glumness and timidity.
Instead, Detroit remained as fierce and focused as it had been in the first 44 minutes of regulation. A team accustomed to paying the price in the hockey postseason showed San Jose how committed it really is to winning this series. The Wings drove hard to the net, skated with abandon, and never stopped coming at Niemi in waves. Henrik Zetterberg made a masterful deflection of a shot from the point to beat Niemi and tie the score at 1-all at 10:38 of the third. Then, just under two minutes later, Valtteri Filppula received a perfect cross-ice pass from Pavel Datsyuk – along with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, the best player in the series – and slotted it in the left side of the net past a sprawling Niemi, who had no chance. Detroit gained the lead, sweated out a San Jose power play, and controlled the last five minutes en route to an exhilarating triumph in a game that was chock-full of end-to-end action. In what has become a classic series with the most skilled displays of hockey excellence in the entire NHL, it’s only fitting that a Game 7 will be staged. San Jose has a dark and haunting history to stare down over the next 48 hours, but the Sharks – to be fair to them – have not choked. Detroit has simply played like an elite team over the past three games.
Now, it’s all a matter of which team will be elite for one more night. To the victors go the spoils in a series that has witnessed a surprising plot twist… but a plot twist that isn’t so rare anymore. These 3-0 series comebacks are getting to be a little bit – dare we say it? – commonplace. We’ll see if Detroit can finish the job in the Shark Tank on Thursday.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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