Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
After taking a 3-0 series lead, it was largely assumed that the San Jose Sharks would cruise to a series win and head into the Western Conference Finals with a full-head of steam. That was not to be the case, however, as the Detroit Red Wings cashed in on their years of playoff experience and have come back to win the next three contests to knot things up at 3-3. Now, the series shifts back to San Jose for the final time, and Detroit will look to become only the fourth team in NHL history to come all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit.
Before this big game takes place, here are the keys for each team to grab the decisive victory:
Keep Shots from Getting to Jimmy Howard
In the first five games of this series, the Red Wings allowed over 38 shots per game to get to Howard, and while he was able to get them two wins in those games, he looked overmatched a lot of the time as well. In Game 6, Howard only had to face 25 shots, and most of them were easy to save shots that came from long distances. This defensive performance by Detroit must be repeated.
Lower-tier Scoring Needs to Continue
Detroit got plenty of offense from their key contributors in their Game 6 win, but two of their three goals came from less-heralded players, with Valtteri Filppula and Darren Helm scoring key goals. After all, it wasn’t Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin that doomed the Wings in Game 7 of the 2009 Cup Finals; it was Max Talbot who scored both of Pittsburgh’s goals, proving the value of scoring depth.
Power Play Must Improve
In the three games played in San Jose, the Red Wings are 1-for-10 on the man-advantage, and that obviously has to improve if they are to win Game 7 in the Shark Tank. This is where the bigger name guys need to step up.
Stars Need to Step Up
In the Sharks’ last three games (all losses), their star players haven’t been stepping up as needed. Joe Thornton only has an assist and is a minus-3, and Patrick Marleau doesn’t have a single point in the entire series. They have to set the tone for the rest of their team in Game 7, or they will be viewed (rightfully so) as chokers once again.
Play the Full 60 Minutes
San Jose has choked away leads in the third period twice in this series, and they came out flat in the first 40 minutes of Game 6. They have to play with a ton more energy and enthusiasm if they want to stem the tide of Detroit’s momentum, and energy guys like Joe Pavelski will be critical to that.
Antti Niemi Needs to Keep Up His Quality Play
Niemi had a fantastic Game 6 for San Jose, single-handedly keeping his team in the contest, and if he can stand on his head again, he will give the Sharks a crucial boost in Game 7.