Last night’s incredible comeback by the Red Wings to beat the Sharks and send the series to a Game 6 has us really spinning our wheels about just what in the world is going on.
1. In a playoffs where we’re seeing unknown guys get a lot of the headlines while some superstars get ripped for not showing up enough, there’s one guy that continues to amaze and solidify his legacy as one of the best in the NHL. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk continues to do things with the puck and play the sort of game that just brings you out of your seat when he rushes up the ice with the puck.
During last night’s 4-3 Game 5 win over San Jose, Datsyuk was supposedly playing with a hurt wrist. He wasn’t doing his normal part in taking the bulk of faceoffs but instead was dazzling Sharks defenders with his ability to wheel out of a cluster of players and help set up the game-winning goal in the third period. His assist on Tomas Holmstrom’s game winner was his third assist of the game.
While Detroit is still down 3-2 in the series, should they find a way to get past the Sharks and deeper into the playoffs, his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy should write itself. For now, he’ll need to keep doing his superhuman things to try and force a Game 7 at the least.
2. Jeremy Roenick caused a stir with those watching the post game coverage on Versus last night. Roenick voiced his displeasure with the play of Sharks forward Patrick Marleau saying he played a “gutless” game and lacked the heart to help his team out. Roenick even went as far as to say that 19 of the 20 guys that suited up for the Sharks last night came to play. Never mind that he’s counting backup goalie Antero Niittymaki there as well (and perhaps that was intended)his takedown of Marleau is something we’ve heard from others before. While his words were harsh and Roenick being a former teammate of Marleau’s certainly adds to the drama, in this series he’s got a point.
Against Detroit through five games, Marleau has zero points and is a -2. Marleau did rack up five points (2 goals, 3 assists) against the Kings in the first round, but against Detroit he’s withered away and played very small. Marleau goes through fits like this in the postseason. Last year against Colorado he had a goal and two assists in six games but rebounded great against both Detroit and Chicago. In seasons previous to that, however, his track record shows that when the going gets tough, Marleau tends not to score.
Roenick took to Twitter to say that he wants to see Marleau play angrier and with a purpose because it makes him a better player. Perhaps JR’s words will give Marleau the spark he needs to prove Roenick wrong.
3. Detroit needed Jimmy Howard to play huge in Game 5. They didn’t necessarily need him to steal them a game, but they needed him to play huge. They got just that from him as he again faced over 40 shots (42 this time) and made 39 saves, many of them spectacular to get the win. The Sharks have been throwing tons of shots at the net in these playoffs and while Jon Quick suffered from that in the first round, Howard has thrived. Now that he’s getting the offensive support, the Wings are winning. With each of the games in the series being decided by one goal, it’s performances like last night that make all the difference.
4. The psychological mettle of the Sharks is something that many bring into question over time thanks to their episodes of playoff failure. They showed last year that they could get over such things when they struggled with Colorado in the opening round but ultimately won out before beating up on Detroit in the second round. Getting swept by Chicago in the West finals wasn’t a shock considering how good they were.
This year, the script started the same struggling a bit with the Kings. Now they’re fighting with the Wings and while still one win away from moving to the West finals again, dealing with the Wings is never a simple matter. These Wings, unlike last year’s, aren’t gassed from just making the postseason. The Sharks have a handful of players who show no mental blocks. Guys like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are too new to be affected by anything in the past. Still, the rest of the team tightens up a bit when things start getting tough. How they handle things going ahead is worth paying attention to closely because if Detroit keeps hitting them where it counts, history leads us to believe that’s really bad for the Sharks.
5. How the series between San Jose and Detroit might pan out could hinge on how some of the depth defensive pairs work out for both teams. We saw some bad play from Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson for the Wings and from Ian White and Niclas Wallin for San Jose. Teams have taken advantage of those matchups and you’d better believe that Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan will be juggling things around to get their top guys out against them. It’s worth paying attention to in Game 6.