MANNHEIM, Germany -- Sometimes a team with lesser talent needs a herculean effort from its goaltender to pull off an upset against a superior team. On Saturday night, Adler Mannheim rode the backs of both their goaltenders and nearly stunned the San Jose Sharks.
Fred Brathwaite, a veteran of eight NHL seasons who is in the middle of third season with the DEL's Adler Mannheim, stopped all 20 shots he faced before leaving the game with 10:30 left in the second period. It was a planned move that allowed Lukas Lang to face a high-caliber NHL team and put on a show of his own.
Lang stopped 38 of 40 shots over the final two periods and overtime and was one shootout save away from earning a memorable victory, but goals by Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle in the third and fourth rounds gave the Sharks a tough 3-2 win in front of 13,600 raucous fans at SAP Arena.
"I know if I was picking the stars, I would've maybe picked a couple different ones," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who pointed out that neither Brathwaite nor Lang earned first, second or third star of the game honors in their own building. "Freddy was extremely good. He gave them a ton of confidence early when he needed to. He was a very calming influence on them. And when Lang came in, he did a tremendous job as well. That's what you ask of you goaltenders … you want a chance to win each night and they gave them that."
While Brathwaite and Lang's showings were both at the same high level, they couldn't be in more different places in their careers.
This sort of performance is nothing new for Brathwaite, who was the MVP of the DEL two years ago and is the goals-against average and save percentage leader of the league this season. He was coming off a 32-save shutout the previous night against the Iserlohn Roosters. But at 37, Brathwaite knows if he wants to get back to the NHL, the League he hasn't been part of since 2004, he needed a night like this.
Did he feel like an NHL goaltender again?
"I don't know. You'd have to ask those people," Brathwaite said, referring to the Sharks he blanked for a half-game. "Yeah, it would always be nice to go back there and get a chance to play back in the NHL if I could, but right now I'm just trying to play as well as I can here and hopefully somebody will see me and we'll see what happens."
So what did it feel like to be up against NHL competition for the first time in six years?
"You know what it felt like? It felt like I was playing back in North America. It felt pretty … it felt right," he said.
On the other side of the coin is Lang, a 24-year-old who couldn't be further off the NHL map. But for one night, he held his own against a team that reached the Western Conference Finals a season ago.
When Lang replaced Brathwaite, he was stepping into a tough situation. Not only was he replacing a former MVP and the top goalie in the DEL, but he was asked to protect an unthinkable 1-0 lead against one of the NHL's top teams. Lang was put to the test right away, making a tremendous sglove save off a Clowe one-timer and helping kill off a four-minute power play to preserve the lead.
Lang shined in the third period, this time making a huge one-on-one save against Sharks star Joe Thornton, who walked in alone after a turnover at the top of the Adler Mannheim zone. Thornton tried to slip the puck through Lang on a backhander, but the novice goaltender stayed patient and made the big save against a potential Hall-of-Famer.
Thornton would get the best of Lang later in the third period, and Devin Setoguchi beat a helpless Lang during a 5-on-3 power play not long after, but it won't do anything to dull the joy Lang was feeling about those two big saves earlier in the game.
"I like when I caught it with the glove, there in the second period," Lang said of his save against Clowe. "That got me in the game for sure. And from the side it was Joe Thornton who came in from the side and couldn't score. That's something I'll keep (in my memory)."
That memory of lifetime was provided partly because Brathwaite didn't ask to play the entire game, instead giving the youngster an opportunity to prove himself.
"I was having mixed emotions," Brathwaite said about having to leave the game early. "I was having fun out there and it would be nice to play the whole game, but it's nice for my partner to get in there and get a chance to play. I'm not saying he'll never get a chance to play for an NHL team, but it's always nice for everyone to get out there and get a chance to play."
Who knows? Maybe the shot of confidence Lang received because of Brathwaite's willingness to share the spotlight will be the jumping-off point for an unlikely NHL career. On this night, both Brathwaite and Lang played like they belonged in the NHL.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo