SAN JOSE – The tide started its dramatic turn less than 20 seconds into the second period.
That’s when Darren Helm got a step behind all five Sharks, sprung by Pavel Datsyuk, and fired a shot into Antti Niemi’s left pad. Helm stayed with the rebound, but Niemi was there to kick that aside, too.
Although that pair of stops kept the Sharks momentarily ahead 1-0, the Red Wings were back into the game after getting thoroughly outplayed in the first period by San Jose, which was in desperate need of a win at home.
Detroit kept up the pressure, the Sharks were often caught running around in their own zone, and the result was a 3-2 win for the Red Wings on goals by Datsyuk and Luke Glendening that put another serious dent in San Jose’s fading playoff hopes.
“We were warned that it was going to go up a notch, and we still didn’t respond, so that’s disappointing,” said Todd McLellan, whose team was outshot a whopping 31-8 over the final two periods, after holding a 14-4 edge after the first.
Matt Irwin, who scored the only goal of the first, said: “We were well aware what kind of game they were going to bring starting in the second period. They’re obviously a proud team, they weren’t happy with how they performed in the first and we had to maintain that and push back even more. It’s disappointing we weren’t able to do that.”
The Sharks are showing every indication lately of being an unstable team that either lacks internal leadership, or simply doesn’t have the talent to play consistent hockey. Considering some of their wins this season over top clubs, it could very well be the former, although it's probably a little of both.
Whatever it is, they look fragile.
“I think the belief system is not as high as it needs to be. So, if you want to call that fragile, I guess it possibly is,” McLellan said. “You could see that once we got the lead we were more prepared to – rather than to assert ourselves and push Detroit back – we were prepared just to defend. That’s not the way we’re going to win.”
Still, they almost did. After killing off a double-minor for high sticking to Matt Nieto at 7:33 of the third, the Sharks were still clinging to a 2-1 advantage. Instead of taking momentum from that performance by the penalty-killing unit, though, they remained on their heels.
Datsyuk’s soft backhander from the slot took an awkward bounce before slipping through Niemi at 13:32, and although that may be considered bad luck from a San Jose perspective, they are the kind of plays that happen when the ice is tilted. So, too, does Luke Glendenning’s backhander over Niemi’s shoulder at 18:45, when the goaltender seemed to overcommit to the shooter.
“We get the kill, we feel like we got some momentum,” Joe Pavelski said. “Just a bouncing puck, you don’t even know how it goes in. At the end, feels like we wasted a couple points tonight.”
Wasted, maybe. But it’s hard to deny that the Sharks deserved what they got, after they inexplicably seemed to decide as a team that the game was over after 20 minutes.
“We fell back into a real defensive mode, trying to protect, and you can’t do that,” McLellan said. “You can’t spend that amount of time in your zone and not make mistakes. It’s impossible.”