“Don’t Stop Believin’” is more than just a crowd-pleasing song played during the Red Wings’ hockey games. It also serves as the message the Red Wings were trying to send to its fans: Don’t stop believin’ in us Hockeytown.
Well, message received, loud and clear.
I’ll admit, after a Devin Setoguchi wrist shot beat Jimmy Howard in overtime of Game 3 to cap yet another third period comeback by the Sharks, my belief in the Wings was nonexistent.
As the rumblings of “why not us?” circled throughout the Wings’ fan base I couldn’t help but look towards the negatives. The Wings had outplayed the Sharks in two out of the three games, yet they had nothing to show for it. Turnovers, penalties and costly mistakes had the Wings down in the basement starring up at 3-0 deficit — a deficit only three teams in NHL history had overcome. I kept asking myself, “what will happen if the Sharks start playing better?”
As it turns out, I was asking myself the wrong question. I should have been asking myself, “what will happen if the Red Wings start playing Red Wing hockey?”
The answer: Three straight wins and a plane ride back to the Shark Tank for an improbable Game 7.
The Wings got back to playing simple hockey. They made smart pinches, maintained possession of the puck, worked hard back on defense, had active sticks in passing lanes and threw pucks at Anti Niemi at every opportunity.
The Wings have been playing desperation hockey for three games straight and seems they thrive under the pressure.
Trailing 3-1 with 19:06 remaining in the third period of Game 5, the Wings took their play to another level. Jonathan Ericsson, Dan Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom scored three straight goals for the Wings to lead them to a 4-3 victory in a game where they were outshot 42-22.
In Game 6, the Wings completely dominated the play the first two periods of the game but the scoreboard still read 0-0 heading into the third period leaving Wings fans with an unsettling feeling in the pit of their stomachs.
Less than four minutes into the third period the Sharks’ Logan Couture slapped a puck towards Howard that trickled through his pads and barely over the line. From that point on, the Wings flipped a switch.
The duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk led another third period comeback for the Wings. It was almost as if the two were playing a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” Zetterberg’s tip on Kronwall’s shot displayed incredible hand-eye coordination only to be topped by Datsyuk’s saucer pass across ice to Valtteri Filppula who slammed it home. Darren Helm locked up a Game 7 in San Jose with his empty net goal with just over a minute left.
Heading into the playoffs, if you would have told the San Jose Sharks they would have a Game 7 at home against the Detroit Red Wings for a chance to head to the Western Conference Finals, many of them would have taken that situation under normal circumstances.
This Game 7 did not come about under normal circumstances and I don’t believe the San Jose Sharks are built to win Game 7 considering the recent sequence of events.
Their lead in Game 5 evaporated before they could recover. Their lead in Game 6 lasted barely long enough for them to gain any semblance of hope before it disappeared into thin air. The Sharks 3-0 lead in the series no longer exists, and the tension is rising. Their confidence is shattered, the momentum has shifted, and now, all the pressure rests on their shoulders.
The Sharks are widely known as choke artists and this year doesn’t look to be any different. The stars in their locker room consist of people who shrink under the pressure and criticism, rather than shine. There’s a reason Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau and Danny Heatley haven’t been able to succeed in the playoffs and it’s not because they lack talent.
The old saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” describes exactly what the Sharks aren’t and exactly what the Red Wings are.
The veteran leadership in the Wings locker room is part of what brought them back in this series. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been sensational on both sides of the puck and have created multiple match-up problems for the Sharks’ defense.
Thursday’s Game 7 in San Jose will mark the eighth time a team has come back from a 3-0 hole to force a game seven in NHL history. The record for teams who have forced a Game 7 after being down 3-0 is 3-4. It only makes sense for the Red Wings to even out history and become the fourth team to complete the inconceivable comeback.
The players believed it, the coaches believed it, and it’s about time we all started to believe it. “Why not us?”