SAN JOSE, Calif. – It was just 54 seconds into the third period Sunday night at HP Pavilion when rookie Logan Couture took a pass from Dany Heatley and scored on a breakaway, giving the Sharks a 3-1 lead against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of their Western Conference Semifinals series.
At that point, the Shark Tank erupted. San Jose, up 3-1 in the series, appeared on the verge of turning the game into a rout and advancing to conference finals.
Not so fast. Before the Sharks knew what hit them, the Red Wings scored three times and escaped with a 4-3 victory, forcing a Game 6 on Tuesday night at Detroit.
"This is hockey," said Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin. "We didn't relax. I thought we fought hard today and put up a lot of shots. But they're a good team and they're not going to give up. Today, it (stinks) right now. Just got to forget about this and come back. We know we can play against these guys. We showed that tonight. Right now it's obviously frustrating, but we'll come back. It's going to make us stronger. We're still in control here. You've got to remember that."
The Sharks, indeed, still lead the series, but their once commanding lead has slipped to 3-2. Last year they beat the Red Wings in the semifinals in five games, finishing them off with a 2-1 win at HP Pavilion.
History, obviously, did not repeat, even though the Sharks outshot the Red Wings 42-22.
"We didn't play a poor game," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "That's hard to swallow. We didn't give up many opportunities. I thought we actually had some poise and composure in the third period, but they took advantage of some of our mistakes and they put it in the net. We get five minutes to feel sorry for ourselves, to hang our heads, and we're already starting the recovery process. I feel if we play that way again, reproduce that game, we'll give ourselves a good opportunity to win. We've got to do that. We're looking forward to doing that Tuesday."
The Sharks' game plan unfolded perfectly at the outset. They had struggled in the first period in the playoffs, being outscored 13-4, but this time they outshot the Red Wings 16-7 in the first and took a 1-0 lead at 17:18 on Devin Setoguchi's goal.
Sharks captain Joe Thornton and defenseman Dan Boyle got the assists. Thornton won a faceoff in the Red Wings' end, and from the high slot, Boyle launched a shot that Setoguchi redirected past Jimmy Howard and into the net.
The Sharks took a 2-0 lead at 15:32 of the second period when Joe Pavelski took a pass from Ryane Clowe and rammed in a shot from the blue paint.
Just 53 second later, Detroit answered. Pavel Datsyuk, circling left to right in the high slot, slipped a pass to a wide-open Niklas Kronwall in the right circle, and Kronwall ripped a shot past Antti Niemi. That cut San Jose's lead to 2-1 with 3:35 still left in the second period.
But the Sharks countered early in the third when Couture scored. That marked the beginning of Detroit's rally, as the Red Wings stormed back to score three times on goals by Jonathan Ericsson, Danny Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom.
"We just knew they were going to press us," Setoguchi said. "I think our special teams kind of let us down a little tonight, too. We had a couple of power plays we needed to score goals on and we didn't get it done."
The Sharks, who had one of the NHL's best power plays during the regular season, went 0-for-4 via the man advantage Sunday night.
After building that 3-1 lead, the Sharks never scored again, but McLellan said it wasn't for lack of effort or aggressiveness.
"I think you put yourselves in a very dangerous position if you put yourselves back on your heels against that team, and I don't think that was the case tonight," he said.
"We gave up six shots in the third period and three of them went in. We wanted to keep the foot on the gas pedal. We wanted to keep going after them. We made some mistakes, and world-class players capitalize on them, and that's what they did tonight."