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The Terrible Third

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
The Detroit Red Wings celebrate a goal by Niklas Kronwall, of Sweden, bottom right, (55) during the second period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, May 8, 2011. Detroit won 4-3. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
During the 2010-11 regular season, the San Jose Sharks were near automatic when having lead after two periods as they posted a record of 29-4-3.

In the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Sharks were perfect when up after 40, winning all three times when leading.

In Sunday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals vs. Detroit, the Sharks were up 2-1 entering the third period. San Jose took a 3-1 lead just 54 seconds in when Logan Couture took a pass from the right wing by Dany Heatley and scored on a breakaway backhand dangler.

“We go up 3-1,” Joe Thornton said, “and we usually finish teams off when that happens.”

But not on Sunday.

At 3:43, Pavel Datsyuk skated from the right corner in the Sharks end and flipped a backhand towards the slot. Henrik Zetterberg got a piece of the puck and as it fluttered to the middle of the slot, Jonathan Ericsson caught it and put a wrist shot past Antti Niemi to cut San Jose’s lead to 3-2.

San Jose Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi (16) and goalie Antti Niemi (31) look up after Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Holmstrom, not shown, scored during the third period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Sunday, May 8, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-3. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Detroit’s tying goal came less than two minutes later. The winning goal would be scored more than eight minutes later, but both tallies were the result of strong slot play by Detroit.

At 5:29, Niklas Kronwall brought the puck down the left wing into the Sharks zone. His shot went wide left and the carom off the end boards went to the right side of the net. Dan Cleary, who had been skating ahead of the play, went behind the net and with four Sharks plus Niemi looking for the puck, Cleary somehow found it and put it past the goal line to tie the score at 3-3.

“The puck was still alive,” Niclas Wallin said of the goal that tied the game. “It was a lucky goal to get. They kept fighting.”

Detroit’s winning goal was a play very familiar to Red Wings and Sharks fans. At 13:52, Datsyuk tossed a backhand pass from the middle of the left faceoff circle in the San Jose end to Nicklas Lidstrom at the left point. He took a few steps and wound up for a slap shot. Right in front of Niemi was Tomas Holmstrom, who got a stick blade on the shot and got the puck past Niemi to complete the comeback and a 4-3 win.

“We tried to get the puck out (of the zone),” Wallin said. “Lidstrom is a good shooter. I couldn’t really see the shot. Holmstrom did a good job.”

For the period, Detroit had six shots and three goals.

“They’re a good club,” Thornton said. “They fought their way back. In just a couple of careless plays, with their skill, they’re going to put those in. It was just a tough third.”

“We made some mistakes and world-class players capitalized on them,” Coach Todd McLellan said.

Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Holmstrom (96) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the San Jose Sharks during the third period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Sunday, May 8, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. Detroit won 4-3. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
A key player on two of those third period goals was Datsyuk, whose stick work took the puck away from the Sharks and resulted in the goals. “The puck was on our tape,” McLellan said. “He (Datsyuk) is, without a doubt, the best in the world at picking pockets and lifting sticks. He not only did it once, he did it twice. We were tired, we were worn out. They got a change ahead of us and made us pay for it.”


In the first three games of the series, San Jose scored three power play goals on 11 tries. Over the last two, the Sharks have no goals in six attempts, including being scoreless in four man-advantage opportunites on Sunday.

“Our power play could be a little better,” Devin Setoguchi said. “We had a couple of power plays we needed to score on and we didn’t get it done. They got a couple of good blocks and they were pressuring good. It’s that time of the year. In the playoffs, it’s tough to score goals. We’ll adjust and we’ll adapt.”

The Wings entered the series with the lowest ranked penalty kill among the 16 teams in the postseason tournament. McLellan credited Detroit with reacting well after making adjustments. In addition, he cited the play of goaltender Jimmy Howard, who faced 42 shots, and the Wings strong faceoff play (they won 49 percent of their draws).

“If you look at the people we put on the ice, the experience they’ve had and the numbers they’ve put up over the past three years, they can be better,” McLellan said. “We spent too much time breaking out and they blocked a lot of shots. Our power play can be better. We need our power play.”

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