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Aggressive defense playing big role for Wings

by Brian Hedger /
DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings were all but officially finished.

After Logan Couture beat Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard just 54 seconds into the third period on Sunday night at HP Pavilion, it seemed like the San Jose Sharks were poised to end this Western Conference Semifinal series in five games -- just as they did against the Red Wings a year ago.

That goal put them up 3-1 in the game and Detroit reporters were probably starting to write the Red Wings' 2011 obituary. Instead a goal by defenseman Jonathan Ericsson just 2:49 after Couture's made it 3-2 and gave the Red Wings hope.

They scored two more -- including the game-winner on a deflection of a blast from the high slot by captain Nicklas Lidstrom -- and stole that game to make it 3-2 in the series in San Jose's favor as the teams prepare to play Game 6 on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m., Versus, TSN, RDS).

"That was huge," Lidstrom said of Ericsson's goal, which was the second of the game by a Detroit defenseman. "It just kind of gave us the momentum back. We were only a goal behind. It just gives you a big boost when you score that early after a goal you give up."

Nicklas Kronwall did the same thing in the second period, after Joe Pavelski put the Sharks up 2-0 with 4:28 left.

Less than a minute after Pavelski's goal, Kronwall took a slick cross-ice pass from Pavel Datsyuk and wristed a shot past Antti Niemi on the far side through traffic from the right circle to make it 2-1 heading into the third.

It shouldn't have been a surprise in this series, however. Both teams have gotten a lot of offense from their defensemen, led by Detroit's Lidstrom (4 goals, 6 points) and San Jose's Dan Boyle (2 goals, 6 points).

In all, the Red Wings have gotten goals by three defensemen and a total of 6 goals and 11 points from their blue line. The Sharks have also gotten goals from three defensemen, amounting to 4 goals and 9 points.

"Both teams have dynamic blue lines, both teams have the capability to jump in and join the rush," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "I think when it comes to the back end for both offenses, it's a wash. It's a matter of who does it better and more often."

It's also a matter of knowing when to join the offensive attack and when to hang back and play it safer. That decision was made a lot easier for the Red Wings after Couture's goal in Game 5, putting Detroit down by two with their season on the line.

"In the game the other night, we were behind -- so we needed goals," Lidstrom said following Detroit's morning skate on Tuesday. "Guys read the plays good and got in there at the right moments and scored some big goals for us."

It's something the Red Wings will look to keep doing in Game 6, but maybe not quite as aggressively as they went after it offensively in the third period of Game 5.

"It helps the team if the defense can be part of the offense, but you've got to be smart about it," Lidstrom said. "You can't be gambling and getting up there and get caught out there. It's just a matter of reading the play."

It's also not a matter of just scoring at will, whenever the time calls for it. As Kronwall pointed out, the Red Wings were outskated and outplayed for the first two periods on Sunday and that's the reason the defensemen needed to be so offensive-minded in the third.

That's not a good trend to fall into.

"It's not like you just press a button and say, 'OK, guys, go out and do it,'" Kronwall said. "It just doesn't work like that. You have to pick your spots when to jump in and when not to. Overall, I think if we can just play a more solid game for 60 minutes, we'll be in good shape. If we don't skate, like we didn't do for the first two periods last game, we'll be in trouble."
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