The Sharks scored three times during a second-period blitz to take a commanding three-goal lead then cruised to a 5-2 win Thursday night at HP Pavilion, beating Detroit for the second time this season.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi improved to 7-2-1, stopping 40 of 42 shots, including all 17 he faced in a first-period siege by the Red Wings, who outshot San Jose 42-28.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard fell to 8-5-1, stopping just 4 of 21 shots before being pulled for backup Ty Conklin after the second period with the Sharks ahead 4-1.
The Sharks defeated Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals in each of the past two seasons. They won in five games two season ago and seven games last season. They beat Detroit 4-2 at Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 28 and own a 14-5-0 edge over the past 19 meetings.
Thursday night's game marked the Red Wings' first at HP Pavilion since they suffered a 3-2 semifinals loss in Game 7 to San Jose on May 12.
"It's a good team. You want to get up for a good team," Vlasic said of the Sharks' success against Detroit. "They've got elite players, and I think guys like to play against Detroit. We've played them so many times. It's two good teams playing each other. I think guys get up for that."
The Red Wings outshot the Sharks 17-6 in the first period and had two power plays – two more than San Jose – but for all that, they could manage only a 1-1 tie.
The game was scoreless until late in the first period when Kronwall scored a power-play goal at 17:23, but Pavelski answered with a shorthanded goal with 12 seconds left to tie the score and swing the momentum.
"We didn't play well until probably that point," Thornton said. "That probably changed the whole outlook on the game. We got some momentum off that. We had a great second period, and the game was over. It got us confidence."
Thornton and Vlasic had assists on Pavelski's goal. After Thornton won a faceoff with Pavel Datsyuk in the Sharks' end, Vlasic tracked the puck down in the right corner. Just as Vlasic cleared the puck, Thornton took off the other way and beat everyone down the ice. He got to the puck just right of crease, skated behind the net and hit a wide-open Pavelski with a pass in front. Pavelski did the rest, beating Howard on his glove side for his team-high 10th goal, pulling the Sharks even at 1-1.
"The energy came from the shorthanded goal," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It also deflated them a little bit. And then we went from there. That's what happens in a game. The momentum will swing one way or the other, and fortunately it swung our way."
The Sharks used the momentum to score three times in the second period.
"It's one of those games where you think you did lots of good things," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We played, I thought, really well in the first period, and we gifted a goal at the end. … Then I thought we were playing real (good) in the second and we turned the puck over at their blue line, and when they got their chances, they scored. We haven't scored easy all year long, and tonight was one of those nights."
Thornton put the Sharks ahead 2-1 at 9:54 in the second, taking a pass from Logan Couture on a rush down the right side and firing a shot past Howard. Less than three minutes later, the Sharks struck again. This time, Vlasic corralled a rebound just left of the crease, skated behind the net and beat Howard with a wraparound as Winchester screened off defenders.
Then at 18:18 of the second, Vlasic got a rebound left of the crease and sent a crisp pass in front to Mitchell, who ripped a shot past Howard, making it 4-1.
"He played great," Thornton said of Vlasic. "He was down in the offensive zone a little bit more tonight. It worked out well for us. Maybe he's our secret weapon and we can keep him on offense now."
Vlasic is typically a stay-at-home defender, but he played a more aggressive offensive game against Detroit, racking up his four points.
"The first one was just a faceoff clear, and I got lucky on that," Vlasic said. "But the other ones, I jumped out, tried to make plays, and it went in for me tonight, which is a big confidence booster, that's for sure."
Winchester's first goal as a Shark made it 5-1 at 9:32 of the third, as Andrew Murray got the assist, his first point with San Jose. Winchester also had an assist, and fellow fourth-liner Andrew Desjardins recorded his first assist of the season.
"They were very good," McLellan said of his fourth line. "That's about the best compliment I can give them. Very good defensively, good through the neutral zone and probably were our best forechecking line. Created a number of opportunities in the offensive zone. Buried themselves in and around the blue paint and scored … so it was really nice to see for that group of three that's worked pretty hard lately."
Cleary cut the lead to 5-2 at 13:38, jamming a rebound past Niemi on the power play, but that was it for the Red Wings.
"Any way you look at it, we're having trouble scoring," Babcock said. "And even when we play hard and control play and do lots of things, then you can't make the mistakes that we make for gifts."
Kronwall's goal in the first snapped a 0-for-16 skid on the power play for the Red Wings, who went 0-for-6 Tuesday night in a stretch of 15 minutes during a 2-1 loss to St. Louis. With Tomas Holmstrom and a pair of Sharks in front of the net, Kronwall fired a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off bodies and past Niemi, putting Detroit ahead 1-0.
Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, in the lineup for the first time after five straight healthy scratches, was in the box for holding when Kronwall scored. At 19:36 of the first, Demers went back in the penalty box, this time for interference. The Sharks quickly turned bad news into good, scoring a shorthanded goal.
Both teams came into Thursday night's game off disappointing losses. The Sharks fell 3-0 to Phoenix on Saturday, a loss that prompted McLellan to say he "thought we were lethargic between the ears to begin with." Detroit lost Tuesday at St. Louis, ending their four-game winning streak.
Red Wings rookie defenseman Brendan Smith, a highly touted prospect, made his NFL debut against the Sharks. He finished the final game of his suspension Tuesday night for a hit to the head of Chicago's Ben Smith during the preseason.
This has been a streaky season for the Red Wings, who have been to the playoffs 20 straight seasons. They opened with five straight wins then dropped six straight before winning four straight. Now they've lost two straight again.
"We're doing a lot of good things out there, and I thought we had a good, strong first period, but you can't give a good team chances like this," Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said of the Sharks, who went 4-1-1 on their six-game home stand. "They are a good team, and they're going to score on their chances, and I think that's what happened tonight."