There are tough losses. There are sad losses. And then there’s whatever type of loss the Sharks endured Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
San Jose was aggressive after the four-day “rest” period that followed last Saturday’s big Stadium Series game, playing an opening frame so dominant that the Red Wings were forced to call a timeout in that period. They got out to an early lead, even managed to halt Detroit’s league-leading power play in the third period when they had clearly lost some of their momentum.
But a lazy backhanded shot by Pavel Datsyuk that tied the game up late deflated the Sharks just enough lead to the eventual 3-2 defeat.
“It’s as frustrating as it gets right there,” Matt Irwin said point blank. “We were really happy with our first (period), and then the tables turned. They started doing what made us successful in the first period, getting on the d-man, getting on the forecheck, adding all the pieces up. They started doing that to us and we didn’t have a pushback.”
Not that the Sharks’ starting netminder didn’t make that push for them, keeping the visiting Wings from mounting a huge lead in the second frame. Antti Niemi was in similar form to what we saw during the Saturday tilt against the Blackhawks. He made stops against in the final minutes of the second frame — first stopping back-to-back shots up close from Niklas Kronwall, then freezing a shot by Gustav Nyquist as it rolled and hit the opposite post, just barely being stopped from crossing the goal-line. He made so many good saves on the night, it made Datsyuk’s tying goal harder to swallow.
“It’s still a tied game,” Joe Pavelski shrugged when recalling the late goal by the opposition, “With a chance to do some good things there at the end, and we didn’t get it done.”
It didn’t help that San Jose got into penalty trouble in the final frame — not smart against the league’s top power play. Justin Braun took a bad hooking penalty, then Matt Nieto — who had been having a stellar game up until this point — was sent to the bin for a high stick double-minor. Somehow, the Sharks managed to silence the Red Wings on the man advantage. But Todd McLellan pointed out that even that a full second period of playing catchup followed by a lot of time on the kill can wear a team down.
“We fell back into a real defensive mode, trying to protect, and you can’t do that. You can’t spend that amount of time in your zone and not make mistakes. It’s impossible. We made enough that they were able to come back.”
The Sharks did get off to a good start, as Irwin’s shot from the blue line coasted through traffic and eluded Jimmy Howard’s block to put San Jose on the board.
Niemi had two huge saves to open up the second frame, despite early signs that San Jose had lost some of their momentum. Then with Brent Burns in the bin for hooking Datsyuk, Detroit pounced on the Sharks penalty kill and evened things up 1-1. San Jose avenged the stalemate with a power play goal of their own as Patrick Marleau poked in the rebound of Logan Couture’s shot off the back boards to beat Howard up close and give the Sharks the lead back 2-1. Detroit upped the pressure and Niemi’s brilliant performance kept San Jose’s one-goal lead in tact headed into the second intermission.
Things were looking up for the Sharks in the tight third frame despite their penalty troubles, as they successfully killed off six minutes down a skater. But Datsyuk’s backhanded shot got through traffic and just missed Niemi’s glove, knotting things up with just a few minutes left. With just a little over a minute left in regulation, Luke Glendening put the nail in the coffin when he flipped the puck up and into the net to give Detroit the go-ahead. San Jose couldn’t get the puck out of their zone in the final minute to get a chance at a tying goal of their own.
“Any that we don’t win is painful, this one’s painful because we were close,” McLellan said. “But really, when you look at the level of play, they hemmed us in for a long time. We were playing with fire and we just didn’t get out of it clean.”