May 10, 2011
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DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings are smelling like an overwhelming favorite now, and they should be. In fact, the only thing that the San Jose Sharks have any business clinging to right now is the hope that momentum in hockey is still a liar.Once again poised to finish a series that isnt finished with them, the Sharks put out a monumentally inert performance at Joe Louis Arena Thursday night, losing 7-1 despite the fact the Wings actually only scored two goals. Thats how bad Tuesday was, and how much closer to reality the difference between the two teams seems to be.San Jose had a lead for nearly seven minutes of this game, and if youre looking for it now, see miscarriage of justice. And if you think thats harsh, check with Todd McLellan, who is way more invested than any of you.
Ahead in the third period? the Sharks coach said when asked to refer to Logan Coutures goal at 3:54 and how it might have resembled the leads they blew in Game 5. We were very fortunate to still be in the game in the third period. We could have been down 4-0 or 5-0.Those were, in fact, the numbers Couture seized upon as well.We just werent very good at all, he said, minimizing the teams culpability while owning up to the general tenor of the room and its ambiance. It could really have been four or five. Nemo (goalie Antti Niemi) stood on his head for us, and we let him down.
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And in spectacular fashion at that. Outshot, outchanced, outworked, out-everythinged, the Sharks are now pushing a refrigerator up a greased hill away from becoming the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and be eliminated from a playoff series they (a) thought theyd all but won, and (b) was their likely ticket to the Stanley Cup Final theyve never had.They were, in short, crushed, on a night when they needed to be anything but.
"You cant take much out of this game other than Nemo was great, defenseman Douglas Murray said. We put up an embarrassing effort. Its nothing to do with Xs and Os. Its about whatever it takes to get yourself ready. We werent skating, we werent making quick plays, we werent doing anything right. This was unacceptable. But we have to move away from it. Weve got an important game Thursday.
Niemi was brilliant as Couture and Murray said, turning away 42 of 44 shots, including 18 in the first period alone. But that was it for uplifting moments. The rest was one long, indistinct gray smear of mistakes, indolence and maybe even intimidation by a Detroit team that is turning back a little more body clock each night. They are now at May 2009, and with a full head of steam toward 2008 -- the last year they won the Cup.Again, the Sharks did have their lead, on a neat little goal by Couture not quite four minutes into the third period. He followed a Dany Heatley shot with a seemingly pedestrian shot at Jimmy Howard, San Joses 16th of the night, that trickled between the goalies leg pads and just barely over the line. It needed a long look from the gargoyles in Toronto who review all dubious goals, but they saw what the goal judge did not -- that the Sharks had defied the run of play and taken a 1-0 lead.
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And that was the end of San Joses highlight reel. Detroit regained the play and kept it through the auspices of third-line center Valtteri Filppula. He created one goal with a 100-foot rush and a pass to defenseman Niklas Kronwall at the top of the right circle that Henrik Zetterberg deflected home at 10:38.Then he scored the game-winner himself by standing in the way of a Couture clearing attempt, finding the magnificent Pavel Datsyuk who in turn found him at the side of an open net (Niemi failed Tuesday to consistently be in four places at once) for the winner at 12:32.That was a bad play by me, Couture said, owning up to the painfully evident. I was trying to put it up the boards and have Mitchie (Torrey Mitchell) skate onto it, and I put it right to (Filppula). That cant happen in the playoffs. I wish I could go back and do it again differently.So do the Sharks, but they did it the way theyve done it so many times before, which is how they got their reputation as The Little Engine That Could, But Doesnt. Of all their playoff failures, this will be the defining one, the jewel in the crown, the ace that wins all hands.Unless, through some defiance of the laws of physics that talk about bodies in motion and bodies at rest, they actually win Game 7 Thursday night at Le Pavillon du HP. That is still a possible outcome.But based on what we have seen, and what we saw in what looked like 5-D HiDef Tuesday, that is absolutely not the way to bet.Ray Ratto is a columnist with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.