First-period goals by Matt Carle and Mike Grier put the Sharks ahead to stay. Game 2 is Saturday 3 p.m. ET. Nabokov stopped all 34 Detroit shots in improving to 5-1 in this spring's playoffs.
His teammates helped him out by getting in front of shot after shot. San Jose skaters blocked 13 through 40 minutes compared to one by the Red Wings.
Nabokov's early heroics kept Detroit from seizing an early lead.
The 31-year-old Kazakh made two huge leg saves in the second minute and was sharp throughout.
San Jose was 1-for-1 on power plays and Detroit was 0-for-3.
San Jose opened the scoring with Detroit captain Nick Lidstrom serving the only penalty of the opening period. Carle slammed a cross-crease Joe Thornton pass into the open side of the net on the power play at 9:45.
Grier connected 24 seconds later. He was in the middle of Detroit's zone when a loose pick slid his way with Mathieu Schneider readying to check him. With his back to the net, Grier spun quickly and smashed a low shot past Dominik Hasek.
Coach Mike Babcock called a timeout to steady down his players. They regrouped and stopped San Jose's momentum.
There were three penalties assessed during the second period, and all of them were against San Jose, but Detroit couldn't score. The Wings had a 10-3 shots advantage in the period, not counting Kirk Maltby's slapper off a post in the fifth minute, but still trailed 2-0 when the third period began.
The Sharks concentrated on checking in the third. By the end, Detroit had a 34-19 shots advantage, but the numbers were deceiving. After getting their two-goal lead, San Jose never appeared in danger of losing the game - not the way Nabokov was playing.
Detroit will have to get much more from its line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Kyle Calder if it's to win this series.
San Jose had the NHL's best road record during the regular season and continues to outplay home teams in the playoffs. Having a physically big team helps, says coach Ron Wilson.
"In some buildings you can be a little intimidated and that's not going to happen to our team," Wilson said going into this series. "We're too big, we're too rugged."
Notes: As tradition demands in Detroit, an octopus was tossed onto the ice in the visiting team's end just before the end of the anthem . . . After two periods, the Red Wings had 19 giveaways and the Sharks two . . . Detroit was without F Tomas Holmstrom (left eye) and D Brett Lebda (mild concussion/sprained ankle) . . . Detroit D Chris Chelios appeared in the 235th playoff game. Only Mark Messier (236) and Patrick Roy (247) played more . . . The Red Wings didn't sell out Thursday, and haven't had capacity crowds for any of their first four home playoff games in the 20,066 Joe Louis Arena. Michigan's economy, stung by auto industry woes, ranks 50th among the 50 U.S. states . . . Bill Guerin is the only Shark with a Stanley Cup ring. Ten Red Wings have rings . . . Vlasic is a brand of pickles in the United States, which is why San Jose rookie Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been nicknamed "Pickles" by his teammates . . . Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom turns 37 on Saturday.