Game 7 on the way: Detroit roars back in third, beats San Jose 3-1

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Another year, another team fumbling a 3-0 series lead and having to face the music with a spot in the conference finals on the line in a Game 7 at home. That’s the position the San Jose Sharks find themselves in after falling to the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 in Game 6 from Joe Louis Arena.

A wild and exciting affair saw the teams head to the third period knotted up at 0-0 after seeing stellar goaltending performances from both Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard, the third period is where business picked up in a big way.

The Sharks were first to strike as Logan Couture was able to squeeze one through Jimmy Howard’s legs just 3:54 into the period. The goal gave the Sharks a lift as they struggled keeping up with the Red Wings all game long, a game that saw them get outshot 42-24 in the end. The Wings, much like they’ve shown all playoffs long, came right back.

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At 10:38 of the period, Niklas Kronwall would rip a shot from the point that Henrik Zetterberg would get a tip on in front of Niemi to make the puck dive past the goalie and into the net to tie the game at 1-1. Just under two minutes later, the Wings would push action again back up the ice and with the defense flowing to Pavel Datsyuk, he hit a streaking Valtteri Filppula who beat a scrambling Niemi to put the Wings ahead  2-1.

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Unlike in past Sharks games, however, the push back after the Wings’ goals wasn’t immediate and suffocating. Instead the Red Wings still found ways to control play. Another late penalty by Justin Abdelkader with 6:36 to play would give the Sharks an opportunity to even things up, but they couldn’t cash in. Darren Helm added an empty net goal to provide the series with its first two goal victory.

Detroit’s play in this game without Johan Franzen and Kris Draper as Mike Modano and Jiri Hudler in their stead was their first truly dominant effort of the series. Having it come in Game 6 should be a very disturbing development for the Sharks. The Sharks have had every reason to end this series immediately. Not finishing off a veteran and playoff-tested team like Detroit means trouble and now the Sharks have it in bunches because Detroit is firing on all cylinders.

Game 7 is like Thunderdome. Throw out anything that’s happened already and just sit back and enjoy the mayhem. We’re not about to go playing sports psychologist here and trying to figure out what the Sharks glitches might be. The point here is that they’re being outplayed by the Wings and badly. As good as the Sharks were earlier in this series the Wings are just as good now and they’re getting great play from everyone.  Datsyuk continues to amaze, Zetterberg is playing great, Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi are playing well on their wings, and most of all, Jimmy Howard is playing out of his mind.

Things are lining up against the Sharks right now but Game 7 can erase all of the bad memories fast. A lucky bounce, a good break, a key penalty, anything can swing one game. Expect that both teams will come out on fire as the Sharks want to avoid the most embarrassing collapse in their team’s playoff history while the Red Wings would love to make some positive memories of their own against the Sharks in historic manner.

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The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski