Incredible Third Period Forces Game 6

That third period of hockey was one for the memory bank. With their season on the line, the Red Wings threw everything they had at the Sharks and came from behind in improbable fashion to send the series back to Motown for Game 6.

Red Wings 4 Sharks 3

Series: Sharks lead 3-2

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The Detroit Tigers drop 2 of 3 to in Minnesota

Let’s not kid ourselves here. The 35:32 of tonight’s hockey game was awful, uninspired hockey from the Wings. They really didn’t look like they were involved in the game at all, and when Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe broke in two on one with Jonathan Ericsson, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead, it seemed hopeless. Jimmy Howard was the sole reason the game wasn’t entirely out of reach at that point, and there was nothing he could do on either of the Sharks first two goals.

Just :53 later, momentum, that fickle creature, slid back in the favor of the Red Wings just as swiftly as Pavel Datsyuk slipped a pass past a Sharks defender and right into the wheelhouse of Nik Kronwall. Kronwall fired it home, cutting the lead in half with less than four minutes to play in the second.

Before the period would end, he would also cut Ryane Clowe down to size, with a viciously beautiful – and clean – body check, one the Sharks forward never saw coming. Ironically, Clowe made it known after Game 4 that he would be seeking retribution on Kronwall for the a strikingly similar hit he laid on Dany Heatley in Game 3. In the dying seconds of Game 4, with the Sharks down 4-3 and a face-off taking place outside of the Wings defensive end, Clowe grabbed onto an unsuspecting Justin Abdelkader and unleashed a flurry of punches. After the game, he said he wished it had been Kronwall, but that he would be looking for his opportunities in the next game to get the true object of his frustrations. To that point, he took a couple of swings at Kronwall with 2.9 seconds on the clock and the Sharks again down 4-3.

With Kronwall’s big shot and big hit, the Wings seemed to have all the momentum in the world to start the third period, and had their big line of Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg reunited to start the third. They immediately created a scoring chance off a rush into the Sharks end, but once it was thwarted, Logan Couture had a breakaway going back the other way. His tucked a backhander under Howard, and the Sharks had their two goal lead yet again.

And then, it clicked.

The Red Wings team we’ve been waiting to see for what feels like forever showed up and ran roughshod over the Sharks for the final 19:06 of the game. Three unanswered goals from Ericsson, Cleary and Holmstrom gave the Wings a 4-3 lead. Datsyuk picked up two more assists in the period, giving him 3 in the game, and a 6 game point streak.

Oh, and by the way, there had been some doubt prior to the game as to whether or not he’d even be healthy enough to play. He has been playing with a wrist injury for the past two games, but you wouldn’t know it to see him play.

Even at less than full strength, Pavel Datsyuk dominated a very, very good Sharks team. And that’s why, for me, Datsyuk is the best player in the game.

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You can take Crosby and his Rocket Richard.

Have the Sedin twins and their Art Ross trophies.

I’ll take the goofy looking Russian with the bow-legged, pigeon-toed strut every day of the week.

It should be noted as well that the Wings accomplished the remarkable comeback without their regular season leading goal scorer, and feared playoff sniper, Johan Franzen. Franzen, who suffered an ankle sprain in Game 2 of the Phoenix series, hasn’t been the same since. He played only 9:19, and didn’t take a single shift in the third period with the season on the line. I’d be completely shocked if he was in the lineup for Game 6, especially with guys like Jiri Hudler and Mike Modano sitting healthy in the press box.

The only guy with less ice time for the Wings tonight was Kris Draper, logging only 7:27, but he sure made the most of those minutes. His line, with Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves, were the only ones to create any pressure early in the game, and he had a fantastic fore-checking shift late in the third period.

Tomas Holmstrom, who played only 12:09, also came up big in limited minutes. He was causing a distraction in the crease on both the Kronwall and Ericsson goals, and he tipped in a Nick Lidstrom blast for the game-winner. Even at his age, with a myriad of injuries in his past, in a more limited, specialized role, he is among the best in the world at doing exactly what he did tonight.

There are far too many players who contributed in a huge way to the victory tonight to simply do a three star selection, so here are my unsung heroes:

Holmstrom, for his net front presence.

Kronwall, for decking Clowe and registering 2 points, as well as playing strong defense.

Miller and Eaves, who were named by Babcock as the team’s two best penalty killers after the game. The PK was perfect for a second straight night, going 4/4.

Kris Draper, for bringing every game of his veteran presence to the table and then some.

The series is back in Detroit for Game 6 on Tuesday night, and you have to believe the ball is now firmly in the Wings court. Win, and force a Game 7 back in San Jose on Thursday. Losing is not a word in anyone’s vocabulary right now.

The Off Wing View’s Three Stars

3. Henrik Zetterberg 1A, +2, 23:00 TOI – Assisted on Ericsson’s goal, but his biggest contributions were defensively tonight

2. Jimmy Howard 39 saves – Howard kept the game from being out of control early on, when the Sharks out shot the Wings nearly 2:1 for the first two periods, and made the big saves late in the game to preserve the win.

1. Pavel Datsyuk 3A, +2, 21:41 TOI – Datsyuk is something else entirely. There is no one in the league like him.

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