After struggling a bit in the first round, the Sharks were expected to falter against the well-rested Red Wings who recently came off a series sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes. However, the Sharks have refused to believe this and have responded emphatically to the critics by winning the first two games of the series. Game one was an impressive comeback victory that was eerily similar to last year’s series vs. the Wings. Once again Joe Pavelski came up huge for the Sharks. Last year, Pavelski scored four goals in the first two games of the series and this year he produced the game-tying goal late in the third period to set up Benn Ferriero’s OT game winner.
Ferriero was making his NHL playoff debut on his birthday, nonetheless, and had spent half the season in the AHL. The odds of him scoring the game-winner were astronomical but that is the beauty of the playoffs. Championship teams receive contributions from the people that you would least expect i.e. the San Francisco Giants rode their way to the 2010 World Series by receiving help from an unlikely hero each game: Brooks Conrad*-Cody Ross-Edgar Renteria to name a few. With Pavelski continuing to be huge and lesser known teammates such as Benn Ferriero stepping up, the Sharks may have figured out a nice formula to end their playoff woes.
Game 2 was a complete performance by the Sharks. Although they played well enough to win in the series opener, the Sharks still trailed for most of the game and needed to a deflection off of Wings’ defenseman, Brad Stuart, to pull it out. On Sunday, the Sharks jumped out ahead in the first period, a rarity so far in this year’s playoffs, and continued to step on the Red Wings throats. Antii Niemi played his best game of the season making some incredible saves to preserve the Sharks lead late in the game. The outstanding goalie play by Niemi could not have arrived at a better time. Jimmy Howard for the Red Wings has been an absolute force thus far with 79 saves. The Sharks have a history of outshooting opponents by a large margin and still losing. That is why the Sharks did not resign Nabokov and why they picked up Niemi. In the first round, the Sharks won in spite of their goaltender but so far in this round they are winning because of him. For the Sharks to march deep in the playoffs, Niemi must continue to this high level of play and refuse to allow those soft goals that plagued the Sharks in round 1.
Next Game: @ Detroit on Wednesday night at 8pm east coast time.