SAN JOSE, Calif. - While the Red Wings already have made strides since last season's playoffs, the San Jose Sharks keep falling into the same ruts that bogged them down against Detroit last spring.
Matt Ellis put the Red Wings ahead with his first NHL goal on a no-look backhand with 12:26 to play, and Detroit rallied for a 4-2 victory Thursday night in a telling post-season rematch.
The game nicely encapsulated both clubs' fates in that second-round playoff series, won in six games by Detroit. San Jose started strong, but couldn't maintain its intensity - and when the Sharks slipped, the steady Red Wings pounced for two third-period goals.
"We fought through a lot, and once we started skating, we had fun," coach Mike Babcock said. "We're relatively short-staffed, so guys had to dig in. We're going through a rough time, sure, but that gives a guy like Ellis an opportunity, and he came up big."
Ellis, a solid minor league scorer who couldn't find the net in his first 21 NHL games, got his first goal without even facing the net. He simply flipped the puck in Evgeni Nabokov's direction while being checked midway up the boards - and it somehow got past defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the bewildered goalie.
"It was nice to see the replay, so I knew how it got in," said Ellis, who hadn't yet checked to see whether his wife and new baby stayed up late to watch the game on TV. "My intention was to put the puck in the paint, and I thought one of the guys driving the net would throw it in."
Pavel Datsyuk scored during a two-man advantage moments after Ellis' strange goal, and Chris Osgood made 23 saves as the Red Wings earned their fourth victory in six games. Henrik Zetterberg extended his goal-scoring streak to five games, and Niklas Kronwall also scored.
Osgood, who hasn't lost in three games this season, got the start for Detroit even though Dominik Hasek was rested and healthy. Babcock's hunch paid off, and the Red Wings got help from two ailing stars: Captain Nicklas Lidstrom played despite bruised ribs, and Zetterberg suited up with a hip injury.
Mike Grier and Jonathan Cheechoo scored and Nabokov stopped 23 shots for the Sharks, who dropped to 3-3-1 early in a season filled with high expectations for the playoff underachievers. San Jose coach Ron Wilson already has shuffled his opening-night lines, but Joe Thornton is his only player with more than five points through seven games.
"You have to be mentally ready, and we seem to be content reading our press clippings and seeing whatever our predictions are for where we're going to finish," Wilson said. "It's the same game we were playing last year in the second period. One turnover, and we collapse for 10 minutes."
The Red Wings' series victory over the Sharks sent them to the Western Conference finals and set off a summer of soul-searching in San Jose after the best regular season in franchise history.
Neither team made huge changes to last season's roster, though the Red Wings added defenceman Brian Rafalski, who had three assists Thursday night. Zetterberg, who had a goal and an assist, has scored in each of the Red Wings' eight games.
Homesickness also might be a problem for the Sharks, who play just three of their first 12 games at the Tank. The Sharks lost their home opener to Boston last weekend - and after Saturday's game against Nashville, San Jose will be back on the road for nearly two more weeks.
"We got ourselves back on our heels," Grier said. "We took some penalties, and some of our guys got out of the flow of the game. They got the bounce there in the third, and kind of took it over from there."
Notes: Detroit RW Mikael Samuelsson sat out with a strained groin, and RW Johan Franzen missed his sixth game already this season with a sprained knee. Detroit then lost Dallas Drake in the second period to an undisclosed injury. "I hit my face, my cheekbone, on the partition of the glass, and I was a little woozy coming off," Drake said. "I have a bad headache, but that's to be expected." ... After a power outage scuttled the Sharks' planned opening-night festivities last Saturday against the Boston Bruins, San Jose put on the delayed show before Thursday night's game.