Has anyone seen Dan Cleary and Richard Dreyfuss in the same room at the same time?
Like Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw in the blockbuster 1975 action flick Jaws, the Detroit Red Wings were on a singular mission: find the fish, shoot at the fish, and lay waste to the fish. The odds were long, the fish fought hard, but in the end Detroit shot 44 times and scored three goals, outlasting the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in game 6 of their Western conference semifinal series. With their improbable third straight win, the Red Wings have now tied the series 3-3.
“We got our game going again, and we were right back on top of them,” said Detroit head coach Mike Babcock, commenting about the momentum within the game, which hugely favored the Wings in the first period. At about the six minute mark and on the power play, Dan Cleary was stuffed on a golden opportunity by San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi, who stopped a subsequent Cleary backhander and saw Jiri Hudler’s drive hit the side of the net in the same furious offensive sequence at about the six minute mark. About a minute later, Drew Miller was thwarted on two in-close shots by Niemi, as the Red Wings were literally buzzing around the net. Niemi made save after save throughout the period, including a wrister from the slot by Niemi after being so wide open that he could have laid down and taken a nap first. After one period, the game was scoreless, with Detroit outshooting the Sharks 18-6.
The second period was a continuation of the first, as Detroit continued to dominate the action. At 3:25, Darren Helm snapped the puck on net and after Niemi’s save, Drew Miller just missed the open cage with a rebound putback. Antti Niemi made fourteen saves, including a memorable one in the waning seconds of the period as Tomas Holmstrom blasted a shot on net and was summarily flipped rear-over-teakettle by a sliding Torrey Mitchell. After 120 minutes, the game remained tied 0-0, with the Red Wings outshooting the Sharks by an astounding 32-13. One shot that did not count was a Dan Cleary breakaway wrister that completely fooled Niemi but clanged neatly off the post.
“I thought one team skated, and the other team did not skate at all, and that was pretty evident,” said San Jose head coach Todd McLellan.
Despite the massive shot disparity, the Sharks were in position
to steal the game and finish the series as the third period started. Paradoxically, they broke through first, as at 3:54 Dany Heatley corralled the puck along the boards to the left of Howard and literally swung his stick like a scythe in tall grass, flinging the puck at the net. The save was made by Howard, but the rebound came out and was poked back right in by Logan Couture for the early 1-0 lead.
After the two utterly dominant periods by the Wings, the Sharks were now in control, and shortly thereafter the game settled into a toe-to-toe slugfest. Both teams saw good chances turned aside by outstanding goaltending. Two minutes after the Couture goal, a spinning Devin Setoguchi shot was saved by Howard, and at 8:37, Henrik Zetterberg’s side of the net wrist shot was miraculously smothered by a sprawling, twisting, break-dancing Antti Niemi.
Finally, with just over half the period left, the Red Wings finally shot one of the fish in the frozen barrel. Valtteri Filppula skated into the San Jose zone, skidded to a halt, caught Niklas Kronwall pinching and found him with the puck. Kronwall fired it on net and in one of those how-the-heck-do-they-do-it moments, Henrik Zetterberg somehow managed to catch
about 1/80th of the puck with the blade of his stick and redirect it past Niemi, tying the score. The momentum fully turned back toward Detroit and less than two minutes later and with 7:28 left in the game, Valtteri Filppula stole the puck from Couture at center ice, passed laterally to Zetterberg and drove to the right side of the net. Zetterberg made a highlight-reel backhanded pass back to Filppula who one-timed it home for the 2-1 lead, sending the crowd of 20,066 into an ear-splitting frenzy. “I think you have to believe all the time, whatever the score is, even if you’re behind, that you can come back,” Filppula said. “Believing we can, it’s definitely a big part of it.”
The Sharks weren’t done fighting, however. At 13:02, Devin Setoguchi executed a perfect curl-and-drag maneuver, beat the defender cleanly and lasered a shot from fifteen feet away that Howard engulfed, flopping on his belly. That was the last, best chance the Sharks had to tie the score, as Darren Helm’s empty-netter with 65 seconds left in the game sealed the win and the remarkable comeback by the Red Wings. As the horn sounded, game seven was assured.
“I haven’t been in a situation like this before, but I’ve played in Games 7s in the past and know the importance of the game,” Nicklas Lidstrom remarked. “It’ll be a fun game to go out there and play.”
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way,” said McLellan. We’ve been taught a lot of lessons along the way. The stage will be theirs. It’s an opportunity to answer the bell.” Regarding losing three straight, he said, “It doesn’t matter how we got there, it’s how it ends.”
The Sharks hope that this time, the big fish wins. Watch out, Richard Dreyfuss.