Maybe 41 is the new 30.
The ageless Nicklas Lidstrom scored two goals in the first period and Darren Helm donned a Superman cape and notched the winner with 1:27 left in the third period as the Detroit Red Wings staved off elimination by edging the San Jose Sharks 4-3 Friday night. “We were fighting for our lives there,” Helm said after his heroics. “Hopefully we can carry that momentum. I think we’re gradually getting stronger as a team, really getting after it. We just told ourselves we weren’t going to be denied.”
Up to this point, the bounces and breaks had pretty much gone San Jose’s way. Ben Ferriero’s wrister from the circle in overtime that handcuffed Jimmy Howard and won game one. Niclas Wallin’s rising shot that ticked off Howard’s glove, executed a near-perfect parabola, and then fluttered into the net for the deciding goal in game two. San Jose’s final rush in game three where four Sharks touched the puck, unimpeded by anyone in a red sweater, leading to Devin Setoguchi’s laser shot for the game winner. With all the hugging Sharks fans were doing after the shocking 3-0 series lead, along with the crying-in-their-beer tears from Red Wings fans, I am reminded of the film that carries the highest hugs+tears/dialogue ratio in movie-making history:
Anyone else have the hots for Olympia Dukakis?
Game four started with both teams skating fast, but Detroit playing as if their backs were up against the wall – which they most certainly were. At around the 3:30 mark of the opening period, San Jose netminder Antti Niemi stopped point-blank shots by both Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper, the latter while seemingly 18 Red Wings (ok, maybe just three) imitated the swallows returning to Capistrano and furiously crashed the net, to no avail. The game remained scoreless until Todd Bertuzzi executed a perfect Tonya Harding spin (sorry, I just watched The War of the Roses) and backhanded the shot past Niemi, putting the Wings ahead, 1-0.
At 11:09 of the first, the NHL’s version of Satchel Paige struck. Lidstrom and his 41-year old bones collected the hard rebound of a Daniel Cleary shot and fired it home, increasing the lead to 2-0. Just under seven minutes later and while on the power play, Henrik Zetterberg saucered a pass to Lidstrom, who somehow corralled the puck and in the same motion, batted the bouncing puck into the net for the 3-0 lead. “We think we’ve been fine,” said Detroit head coach Mike Babcock, assessing his team’s play during the series. “We haven’t found a way to score enough goals.” For the first time in the series, the Wings were playing to their capability.
The Sharks didn’t get where they were in the series by serenely canvassing the countryside like Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy. A mere fifteen seconds after Lidstrom’s second tally, Ryan Clowe intercepted Darren Helm’s breakout pass, stickhandled while skating in on a hard angle to the right of Jimmy Howard, wristed the puck on net and had his shot tipped in by a spinning Logan Couture, putting the Sharks on the board. “Going into the end of the period 3-0, we would have been in a little bit of trouble,” Couture said, “but to get that goal kind of changed the momentum a little bit.” After one period, the Wings had outshot the Sharks, 17-12.
The second period saw adjustments on both sides and a slowing down of the pace of the game. Niemi made a key save on a Justin Abdelkader slot shot at 5:01 of the second period, momentarily preserving the two-goal advantage. However, with 6:16 remaining in the period and after winning the draw, the Sharks furiously crashed the net. Kyle Wellwood did everything but drive the Zamboni machine as he took the puck to the net on the backhand, collected it behind the cage, circled around and slid the puck cross-slot to a pinching Dan Boyle, who paused, surveyed the scene, admired the pretty girl in the second row and wired it top shelf past Howard, cutting the lead to 3-2. “I liked the fact that we found some get-up-and-go for a while to get ourselves back in the game,” commented San Jose coach Todd McLellan. “When you’re chasing it all the time you expend a lot of energy. We were second to loose pucks. We have to get a step quicker to win those races.” After two periods, it was anyone’s game, with the Wings clinging to a one-goal lead.
In a postseason characterized by dramatic comebacks, San Jose completed theirs just 1:14 into the third period. Jason Demers passed laterally to Marc-Edouard Vlasic at the point, who fired it on net. The puck hit traffic on the way in and landed on the stick of Logan Couture, who cycled it behind the net. Ryan Clowe took the pass, spun, and centered it to Dany Heatley, who scored from one knee in-close, tying the score.
The game then evolved into a series of chances, thwarted by the goaltenders. Valteri Filppula’s shot, fought off by Niemi. Devin Setoguchi, slipping in all alone on Jimmy Howard, stopped with the blocker at point-blank range. The time ticked down to 1:37 when a key faceoff was taken in the San Jose zone. Darren Helm, perhaps looking for redemption after his giveaway that led to the Sharks’ first goal, won the faceoff. After glancing off several sticks, the puck eventually found Brian Rafalski, who fired a slap shot through traffic that was saved by Niemi. The rebound came to Patrick Eaves who spotted Helm all alone at the right side of the slot. Eaves sent the puck to Helm, who saw Niemi out of position and wristed the puck into the half-open net for the game-winning goal. The crowd of 20,006 went bananas, and despite a fantastic chance from about a foot away by Patrick Marleau in the final minute, Detroit held on to win game four, 4-3, sending the series back to San Jose for game five.
“It wasn’t a heartbreaking loss,” said Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, the second star of the game with three assists. “It’s not like we blew a lead or anything. They scored at the end, and it was a game they deserved to win. They were better.”
With the win, the Empire had most certainly struck back. Detroit, winners of four Stanley Cups since 1995, had regained a measure of momentum, but faces a daunting task ahead: only three teams have come back from 3-0 deficits to win a playoff series. Maybe they need to wear the Sharks’ uniforms in game five (check out the video for the explanation):
Now that’s pretty darned creepy, isn’t it?
The puck drops at 5:00 EDT on Sunday.