The Detroit Red Wings made it look easy.
The Wings got 2 goals and a pair of assists by Henrik Zetterberg on Tuesday night as they cruised to a 5-3 victory against San Jose at HP Pavilion in the first meeting between the teams since the Sharks knocked Detroit out of the playoffs last spring.
This time, the Wings looked like the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2008. They never trailed after Danny Cleary scored a power-play goal 4:50 into the game and played most of the third period with a three-goal lead after Zetterberg beat Antero Niittymaki for his second goal of the game 7:55 into the third period. Ryane Clowe's goal with 2:32 left in regulation made the final score closer.
The game was played without incident after a power problem at the HP Pavilion forced both teams to cancel their morning skates.
"It was a strange morning and a strange day," Zetterberg said. "We didn't know if we were going to have a game, so we went for a nap, woke up, got a text that it was 'Game on," and just went to the rink."
When they got to the rink, they found a Sharks team that's playing with a lot of young defensemen due to injuries. With Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins and Jason Demers all sidelined with injuries (as well as forward Devin Setoguchi), the Sharks had to dress Derek Joslin, Justin Braun and Mike Moore, all called up from the AHL Worcester Sharks.
Coach Mike Babcock said part of his team's plan was to test the kids on the blue line.
"We knew they had some guys missing on the back line," he said, "and we were able to get in and turn over some pucks and score some nice goals.
"I thought that the big thing is that we were able to take advantage of their defense tonight. We knew coming in that was going to be an issue for them and we spent some minutes in their zone."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan wasn't happy with some of his players, but said his young blueliners did all right.
"They knew they were playing in a game against the Red Wings. They're a good team and they're in first place for a reason, and I thought for the most part they held their own," he said. "When you look at our overall game and our overall team, I thought we were missing three or four guys that could have made a huge difference.
"It wasn't the young defensemen. It was a couple of guys that we count on -- and when we're in this situation that we are in, we need them."
Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, who lost four one-goal decisions to the Sharks in last spring's playoffs, stopped 25 of 28 shots. He's now 27-2-4 in his last 33 regular-season starts.
The win gives the Wings 34 points, the most in the Western Conference, and was a good start to a trip that will see them visit Anaheim and Los Angeles this week before returning home.
"It was a good road win for us," Babcock said, "and it starts the trip off the way you want it."
After Cleary put the Wings ahead, Pavel Datsyuk made it 2-0 at 8:01 by out-waiting Niittymaki, getting him to go down, going wide to the left and roofing a shot for his eighth of the season.
Dany Heatley extended his goal-scoring streak to four games when he scored a power-play goal at 9:35. Heatley got credit for his 12th of the season when Joe Thornton banked a shot off his skate and past Howard. It was Thornton's 500th point as a Shark.
But Zetterberg made it a two-goal game again at 2:56 of the second period with a move more appropriate to a Tiger than a Red Wing, whacking a puck out of the air and into the net with a baseball swing.
"Not often," Zetterberg said when asked how often he'd scored a goal like that.
Benn Ferreiro's slapper beat Howard less than two minutes later to make it a one-goal game again, but a redirection by Patrick Eaves with 11 seconds left in the period gave Detroit a 4-2 lead after two periods. Eaves got his stick on a shot by Cleary to take a lot of life out of the Sharks and the sellout crowd.
"I think it was a huge goal by Patty at the end of the second (period),"
Zetterberg said. "Being two goals ahead going into the third period was big. We just kept going, working their end, and we didn't make many mistakes.
Zetterberg's second goal of the game came off a turnover and ended most of the suspense.
"They were the better team when all was said and done," McLellan said. "They created more quality scoring chances than we did. They forced us to turn the puck over a little bit more. Their special teams were a little bit sharper than ours were. When you add that all up, they probably had two or three more players going than we did -- and the win goes into their column. They deserved it."
Material from team media was used in this report