The Detroit Red Wings are one of the most respected franchises in sports, not just in hockey. They have won more Stanley Cups than any American team and have appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the last 20 seasons. They’re also the model of consistency; they’re almost always a threat.
The San Jose Sharks are a much younger franchise, but in their somewhat brief history they have taken on the label of “chokers.” Whether or not that title is deserved is debatable, but the point remains: the Sharks have been one of the most consistently competitive regular season teams of the last decade, but they have never been to the Stanley Cup Final. San Jose has only missed the playoffs once since 1998, and yet they haven’t been able to go all the way.
For the first three games of their 2011 series against one another, it seemed that the tables were about to turn.
The Red Wings looked like time and the long playoff runs of the past had finally caught up to them. While they breezed through their first round series with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Sharks defeated Detroit in overtime in game one. Then they defeated them in game two. Another San Jose overtime victory came in game three and it looked like this was San Jose’s time. Sure, these were all one goal games, but the Sharks were firmly in control and the Wings were pushed to the proverbial brink.
It appeared that it was all over for the Red Wings. Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg were all suffering from one injury or another and all signs pointed to the Sharks being on the way to their second-straight Western Conference Final.
Then it all changed.
Desperate to stay alive in these playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings pulled out a 4-3 win in game four. Nicklas Lidstrom had two goals and the Wings held off a third period Sharks push to win the game. Was this a last gasp from Detroit or was the tide starting to turn?
That question was answered in game five. This time it was the Red Wings who put together a third period rally. They erased a two-goal deficit in the third and then took the lead with a Tomas Holmstrom goal. Jimmy Howard made 39 saves in game five and Pavel Datsyuk had three assists. The Red Wings were back in the series. They had fought back from a San Jose 3-2 lead in what could have been their final period of hockey this season, and now doubt was starting to creep into the Sharks’ minds.
They had failed to finish off the Red Wings when they had the chance and now they had to fight off a newly energized Red Wings team in Detroit. As we saw yesterday, that didn’t happen.
Again the Sharks had the lead and again the Wings battled back. Detroit is showing exactly why they have had so much success over the past 20 years and the Sharks are showing exactly why they’ve been labelled as “the team that can’t get it done.”
That’s not to say that this hasn’t been a close series. Excluding the empty netter in yesterday’s game, every contest in this series has been decided by one goal. These two teams are battling hard and leaving it all on the ice. San Jose continues to stand toe-to-toe with Detroit, but the storyline of this series is starting to take on a familiar tone.
The Sharks are not able to get it done. The Red Wings are too experienced, too dedicated and too talented to be bested. That has been the story for over a decade now. Yes, there have been individual moments (such as last year’s series between these two teams) where the Sharks have succeeded and the Wings have struggled, but the overall trend remains the same.
Now the past is coming back to haunt these two franchises.
The NHL has marketed the playoffs’ sense of “history” for the last two seasons and now it is history that could be repeating itself.
Can the Sharks fight off their “choker” label and move on to the next round or will the Red Wings defy the odds and prove once again that they are the elite franchise in modern hockey? Will home ice benefit the Sharks or will they once again tank in the Tank?