DETROIT -- It's not surprising that the Red Wings reached down deep for a second game in a row for a comeback victory. With their veteran leadership and two decades of success, it's not even shocking that they've fought off elimination for a third consecutive time.
But maybe it's a bit bewildering that with the Red Wings less than 10 minutes away from calling it a season, it was Valtteri Filppula who emerged as the hero.
The 27-year-old, who hadn't registered a point in five games against the San Jose Sharks, showed poise in setting up the tying goal by Henrik Zetterberg with 9:22 left in the third period, then scored the winner 1:54 later to help give the Red Wings a 3-1 victory Tuesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings have turned a 3-0 deficit into a 3-3 series with a decisive Game 7 set for Thursday night at HP Pavilion in San Jose.
"I think you have to believe all the time, whatever the score is, even if you're behind, that you can come back," Filppula said. "Believing we can, it's definitely a big part of it."
"I thought he was excellent," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He was a guy we obviously needed more from. He's an important guy for us."
The Red Wings now have a chance to truly make history. Only three teams -- the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers -- have ever won a playoff series after being down 3-0.
Even 41-year-old Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who has seen it all and done it all with the Red Wings, has a chance to accomplish something new in his illustrious career.
"I haven't been in a situation like this before, but I've played in Games 7s in the past and know the importance of the game," Lidstrom said. "It'll be a fun game to go out there and play."
The Sharks had a chance to win only because of goaltender Antti Niemi, who played his finest game of the playoffs. He made 32 saves through the first two periods and 42 overall.
The first period was all Niemi, as he singlehandedly kept the Red Wings from jumping to a multi-goal lead with his outstanding play. He stopped all 18 shots he faced while the Sharks could muster only six shots. It's tough to pick Niemi's best save, but he made two in a row on Tomas Holmstrom and Brian Rafalski with the Red Wings on an abbreviated power play late in the period.
First, Niemi stopped Holmstrom from point-blank range with his blocker. Seconds later, Niemi gloved a blast from Rafalski, snaring it and not allowing a rebound with heavy traffic just above his crease.
Niemi nearly stole the game and the series for the Sharks, but in the end, San Jose players felt the overall performance of the team wasn't worthy of a victory.
"You can't take much out of this game other than Nemo was great," Sharks defenseman Doug Murray said. "We put up an embarrassing effort. It's nothing to do with X's and O's. It's about whatever it takes to get yourself ready. We weren't skating, we weren't making quick plays, we weren't doing anything right.''
Despite all that, Logan Couture gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 3:54 of the third period. After goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made 24 saves and wasn't tested all that much, stopped a shot from Dany Heatley, the rebound popped into the air, where Couture quickly deflected it through Howard's legs. The puck crossed the goal line by just inches, but a video replay confirmed it was a good goal.
But for the second game in a row, a goal by Couture woke up the Red Wings.
Now the Sharks are the team facing a true test, much like the Vancouver Canucks were after wasting a 3-0 lead during the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks before a dramatic overtime win in Game 7. Sharks captain Joe Thornton said the last thing anyone in his dressing room is thinking about is pressure.
"Just ask Detroit -- they lost three in a row and their confidence wasn't frayed," Thornton said. "We're a confident group, still. You work 82 games to get home ice in these Game 7s. Now we just have to make it work."
Filppula's assist that tied the game came after be beat Demers in the corner and hit a cutting Niklas Kronwall with a drop pass. Kronwall's blast was deflected only slightly be Zetterberg, who finally broke through against a practically invincible Niemi to tie the score.
Pavel Datsyuk, who once again looks like his injured hand isn't hurting him at all, then flipped a cross-ice backhand pass to a cutting Filppula, who made no mistake as he buried the winner.
The Sharks had a chance to tie it after Justin Abdelkader took an offensive-zone holding penalty, but failed to score with the man advantage for a third straight game. The Sharks are 0-for-8 since they went up 3-0 in the series.
Now it's just a matter of making sure they end up on the wrong side of history. For the Red Wings, they'll try to use that composure that has served them so well since being pushed to the brink after Game 3.
"This team is working truly hard here," Howard said. "Nobody was feeling bad about us being down 3-0 in the series. We weren't about to hang our heads, either. Even though we were down 3-0, there was still a calmness about this team."
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