Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sharks Respond Big

The San Jose Sharks did a spectacular job in answering questions of how they would respond after losing 7-1 in Detroit with a 2-1 win to eliminate the Red Wings from the playoffs. Patrick Marleau broke the 1-1 tie 6:59 into the 3rd period, which would prove to be enough for his team win the game and end the series on home ice in front of 17,562 fans.

The Sharks dominated the first period of play outshooting the Red Wings 15-6 and hammering the Wings' defense with punishing body-checks leading to their scoring opportunities. In a conversation I had with TSN's Chris Cuthbert during warm-ups, he mentioned that when speaking with Mike Babcock, Wings' defenseman Brad Stuart was questionable because of the injury he sustained in Game 4. It looked like the Sharks did a tremendous job in targeting Stuart with check after check, wearing him down. It was also very noticeable that the Sharks aimed to play this game with much more defensive responsibilities as the defense did a great job gapping and the forwards were picking up their assignments in their own zone.

The Wings responded in the 2nd period, establishing their style of play and applying offensive pressure, outshooting the Sharks 14-3. Brian Rafalski broke the scoreless game 2:40 into the frame, with what we've seen all series from the Wings - screens in front of Nabokov. A breakdown in the defensive zone for the Sharks lead to the goal after some great forechecking by Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg allowed Johan Frazen to get the puck to Rafalski at the point for a shot. Joe Thornton lost his stick on the play allowing Bertuzzi to stand in front of Nabokov unmolested inhibiting his ability to see the shot. The lead, however, would only last 2:14 when Thornton tied the game off a reboud in front of Jimmy Howard while the Sharks were on the powerplay.

As the 3rd period began, the Sharks looked hungry to close out the series at home and worked hard in generating scoring opportunities. Joe Pavelski made a nice move on Niklas Kronwall, who had trouble with a bouncing puck, resulting in a penalty shot for Little Joe. It looked to me like nerves took over when his attempt sailed way high over the glove and net of Jimmy Howard. You could feel the concern of the entire arena that the penalty shot would be the best chance the Sharks would have, but then...A great job by the Sharks top line and a poor reverse by Brian Rafalski allowed Thornton to find Marleau open in the slot and Jimmy Howard did not stand a chance on stopping that shot. The Wings played with a sense of urgency and desperation for the remainder of the game while the Sharks clogged the middle of the ice blocking shots and clearing the zone. Evgeni Nabokov looked outstanding, especially down the stretch, and ended the night stopping 33 of 34 shots faced.

I found it amazing that the three players with perhaps the most pressure and scrutiny came up the biggest for San Jose. Nabby with his performance and response from Game 4, Marleau with the game-winning goal, and Jumbo Joe with the game-tying goal and the beautiful setup on the game-winner.

The Sharks advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2004

I want to send out a special thank you to Rick Peckham and Daryl Reaugh from Versus for giving us a chance to watch them work and for being so friendly before and after the game.

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