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Sharks hold off Red Wings 4-3

by Brian Hedger /
DETROIT – Devin Setoguchi has the hot stick right now, but the five goals he's scored in San Jose's past two games aren't just going in by luck. They've come from hard work, sacrificing his body and let's face it - it's doesn't exactly hurt to play on a line with playmaking center Joe Thornton.

Powered by the duo of Thornton and Setoguchi, not to mention another solid outing by goalie Antti Niemi, the Sharks upended the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 on Tuesday night in front of 20,066 at sold-out Joe Louis Arena.

It ended a five-game winning streak for the Red Wings (37-17-6) and pushed the Sharks' winning streak to four games. Thornton finished with a goal and 3 points, while Setoguchi scored two more goals after recording a hat trick in a 4-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said there's been more to Setoguchi's game than putting the puck in the net.

"It's everything that leads up to the goal," McLellan said. "It's the fact that he's involved physically, that he's in on the forecheck, that he stays in battles, that his shift length's right, that he's working back defensively … I can go on and on. And then it ends with a goal."

Playing with Thornton and the chemistry they've developed is also a factor.

"Jumbo has the ability to find him," McLellan said of Thornton. "They've clicked before and had some chemistry. Hopefully they can continue it."

The Sharks (34-21-6) also hope Niemi continues to shine.

Niemi was named the NHL's First Star last week and he showed why by stopping 35 shots - none bigger than a kick save against Johan Franzen with 21.2 seconds left in the third period to prevent a game-tying goal.

Despite allowing a pair of goals to Detroit's Danny Cleary and giving up a power-play goal to Henrik Zetterberg with 1:51 left to play, Niemi earned his 21st win with a number key saves. Several of them came right away, as Detroit outshot the Sharks 9-1 through the game's first 10 minutes.

"If you're able to stop those, then it's easier for the rest of the game," said Niemi, who is among the hottest goalies in the League right now. "It's just huge right now getting wins."

This was Niemi's 16th straight start dating to Jan. 15, and he's won 12 games in that span. He also put up some eye-opening stats during that stretch - posting three shutouts, a .939 save percentage and sterling 1.77 goals-against average prior to Tuesday's game.

"That's just another night for him," McLellan said of Niemi, who signed with the Sharks as an unrestricted free agent last summer after leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a sweep of the Sharks on the way to the Stanley Cup. "The save at the end against Franzen was obviously a very big one, but he made a couple real good saves early in the game - when we needed to keep the game close and work our way into it."

San Jose outshot the Red Wings 43-38, but momentum really swung in the Sharks favor thanks to four Detroit penalties in the second half of the first period - including two high-sticking incidents that saw Sharks rookie Logan Couture get clipped.

The first resulted in a double minor assessed to Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and the second was a minor called on Lidstrom with Ericsson still in the penalty box. This time, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard kept the game scoreless with some impressive saves to kill off both San Jose power plays - including a pair of saves during 2:00 of 5-on-3 action.

Thornton's goal, his first since Feb. 1, finally broke the scoreless tie with just 7.4 seconds left in the first during yet another Sharks power play. Dan Boyle launched a shot into traffic from the high slot and the puck deflected off Joe Pavelski's stick to Thornton for an easy tip-in.

"(The penalties) killed our momentum for the most part," said Howard, who made 39 saves. "We were able to kill off the 5-on-3, but (Thornton's goal) was just one of those ones where it's like playing 'Plinko' on 'The Price is Right.' It bounced off everyone and just happened to land right on Joe's stick."

Cleary and Jiri Hudler combined to tie it 1-1 at 7:06 of the second. Hudler backhanded a rebound of Nicklas Lidstrom's blast from the point toward the net and Cleary just got his stick on the puck before it completely crossed the goal line. The assist extended a hot streak by Hudler, who assisted on both of Cleary's goals. Hudler has now recorded a point in six straight games.

The Sharks responded with 5:51 left in the second to go up 2-1 thanks to a great individual effort by Ryane Clowe, who blocked a shot from the San Jose blue line by Ericsson and turned it into a breakaway goal. The lift it gave the Sharks lasted just 33 seconds thanks to Cleary's second goal, which knotted it 2-2 at 14:42.

Cleary jabbed at the puck underneath Niemi after his original shot was stopped and it went over the goal line. In 11 games since returning from a broken ankle, Cleary now has 5 goals and 10 points.

However, Thornton wasn't done. He made sure San Jose took the lead into the second intermission by setting up Setoguchi's first goal with 1:17 left in the period. Thornton threw a wraparound attempt to the front of net and Setoguchi got his stick on it before sliding into the net himself.

"On that one, I knew I was going into the net," Setoguchi said. "I had to try and get it off and duck underneath without losing my head on the crossbar."

Setoguchi's second goal of the game and 17th of the season came with 6:48 left in the third to give the Sharks a 4-2 lead. Zetterberg's power-play goal after Dany Heatley's interference minor gave the Red Wings some home, but they couldn't push across the game-tying goal despite having the extra attacker in the final minute.

San Jose now has 74 points in the Western Conference, one behind the Phoenix Coyotes in the conference and Pacific Division standings after the Coyotes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday.

"Every night's a playoff game," McLellan said. "For some teams that's a great thing. We put ourselves in this situation, where we have to compete hard every night. We don't get the opportunity for a stinker. That may be a good thing for us."

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