Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks are off to the Western Conference final for the second year in a row. (Getty Images)
The Hockey News' NHL Playoff Recap gives you our take of what happened in each game of the night and what the consequences will be for the rest of the series.
We also provide our Three Stars of the games, which will be tabulated after each round. First Star is three points, Second Star is two points and Third Star is one point. Be sure to vote on who you think the first star was as well.
Of course, there's the other side of the coin: The Black Hole is a piece of the lineup that just couldn't get it going on a given night and contributed to a difficult evening for the team.
THN’s Take: Two of the NHL’s best saved the second round by taking their series the distance and stretching the excitement to the very last seconds. It was a real tug-of-war in Game 7 as the two heavyweights lobbed haymakers of momentum back and forth. San Jose stormed out front early, but let the Red Wings hang around and eventually started to hand over control to the guys in white.
And that’s what this Sharks team has in common with every other San Jose team before them whose playoff season ended in failure. San Jose has always had the talent, but never the finish and letdowns have almost become expected.
But just as the Red Wings were pushing so hard overtime seemed inevitable and another teal topple seemed imminent, the Sharks showed exactly what is different about this team and why you should believe this is, in fact, the year: they pushed back.
Patrick Marleau was having another disappointing game until his team needed him most, at which time he suddenly became the most noticeable player on the ice. He had a few excellent stick-lifts in the defensive zone and the all-important game-winning goal that gave the Sharks breathing room at the time, all of which will define his effort in Game 7, no matter what came before.
Of course, that’s not the only reason San Jose will be catching a flight to Vancouver. Joe Thornton was phenomenal once again and is doing everything possible to shake any notion he can’t bring his game to another level. Antti Niemi, shaky at many times during these playoffs, was a wall; by playing like this in the biggest games, it’s no wonder he hasn’t lost a playoff series yet.
No, these Sharks are different. Think back to the 4-0 deficit they turned into a win against Los Angeles, Thornton’s overtime-winner to finish that series, Devin Setoguchi’s hat trick in Game 3 – and now look to Thursday’s effort and who they knocked off. These Sharks are building towards something special and are fresh off slaying the most intimidating of beasts, but the challenge isn’t about to get any easier as they’ll face a feisty Vancouver squad that claims to be vastly different from its recent entries as well.
1. Joe Thornton – His stat line may only read one assist, but Thornton’s 22:02 of ice was the most among all forwards and his presence in the faceoff circle was once again clutch in a series that was all about puck possession.
2. Antti Niemi – Made 38 saves on 40 shots, including two beautiful ones on Pavel Datsyuk (one a wraparound attempt, the other a glove save by the ears late). Niemi may have his consistency issues, but he’s come up big at crucial times.
3. Patrick Marleau – Definitely was not having a good game until the third period, but his contributions in the final 20 minutes had a big impact on the outcome. He thwarted a few Detroit chances and scored San Jose’s third goal that stood up as the winner.
The Black Hole
Brian Rafalski - Detroit’s power play was never able to get anything going and Rafalski’s 5:07 of PP time means he was on the man advantage the most. Rafalski wasn’t creating any chances with the man advantage and wasn’t able to connect on the outlet passes that have helped him have such a successful career as a puck-mover. Not only that, but the chance that turned into the game-winner was created when he let a pass slip through his legs.
The NHL Game Night Recap will get you caught up with all the playoff action. THN will name our Three Stars for each game and tabulate the results after each series. First Star = three points, Second Star = two points, Third Star = one point.