DETROIT -- It was all set up for the San Jose Sharks to do exactly what they'd already done once at Joe Louis Arena in this Western Conference Semifinal series.
Goalie Antti Niemi turned away everything he saw for more than 50 minutes, and the Sharks were up 1-0 despite being thoroughly outplayed by the Detroit Red Wings. Just as they did in Game 3 in this building, the Sharks were poised to steal another game – one that would've ended Detroit's season this time.
Instead, it all unraveled in the last 10 minutes of the game and Detroit tied the series at 3-3 by rallying for a 3-1 win in front of 20,066 delirious fans.
"The performance tonight was disappointing," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "One team skated. The other team did not skate at all and that was pretty evident right through the first two periods."
It was almost a reverse mirror image of Game 5 at HP Pavilion two days earlier, when it was the Red Wings who were outplayed for two periods.
The only difference: They found a way to win that game with three goals in the third period despite trailing 3-1 at one point. For the Sharks on Tuesday night, the three-goal outburst in the third again belonged to the team wearing red and white.
Once again, San Jose took a lead on a goal by Logan Couture that slipped through the pads of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard just 3:54 into the third period. Once again, the Red Wings came storming back with goals by Henrik Zetterberg at 10:38 and Valtteri Filppula at 12:32 – with an empty-netter by Darren Helm sealing it with just 1:05 left.
Overall, the Sharks were outplayed in almost every facet. They were outhit 30-27. They were outshot 45-25. They blocked only 12 shots to 17 by Detroit. The only stat they won, oddly enough, was in the faceoff circle – where the Sharks won 59 percent of the draws.
Otherwise, it was a game they'll try to forget as quickly as possible on the long plane ride home before Game 7 on Thursday night.
"It's tough to lose three straight, especially with a chance to put 'em out every time," said Couture, who despite scoring the lone San Jose goal was also on the ice for the goals by Zetterberg and Filppula. "But they're a tough team. Coming in, we expected it to be a seven-game series. So, it doesn't matter which way the wins go: three and three. We've still got one game to play for the season."
They've also got a hot goalie in Antti Niemi, who despite losing three straight games felt good about his performance on Tuesday night. It would be hard not to, when you look at the sheer numbers. Despite allowing two goals in the final 10 minutes, Niemi was outstanding in the first two periods – stopping all 32 shots he saw and getting help from the left post on a breakaway by Danny Cleary in the first.
If it weren't for Niemi, the Sharks could have been down by several goals heading into the third instead of locked in a scoreless tie.
"We didn't play very good," Couture said. "The score should've been 5-1 or 6-1. ‘Nemo' gave us a chance to steal one and we let him down. So, we're gonna have to move on from this. We've got one way to save our season – to continue to play. I know no one in this room that wants to end their season next game, so we better fight a lot harder than we did tonight."
If they don't, they're surely going to hear about it from Sharks fans at HP Pavilion. If there's one bright spot for San Jose to take out of this game, other than Niemi's play, it's the fact the last act gets played out in California on the Sharks' home ice.
After going up 3-0 in the series, McLellan said he knew there was a storm coming from the Red Wings – but now that it's at hand, he's glad it will come to some sort of conclusion in his team's home building.
"A lot of you asked me before the series started what home ice meant," McLellan told reporters. "I guess we'll find out now."
And as for possibly being on the business end of entering the history books – Detroit is trying to become just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a series – the Sharks are doing everything they can to blot that thought from their minds.
"We'll ignore it," McLellan said. "At 3-0, we had won three games in a row. At 3-3, they've won three games in a row. Doesn't matter how we got here. It really doesn't. What matters is how it ends, and that's how we'll approach it."