Detroit Red Wings, from background left, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Lidstrom, and Chris Chelios, celebrate a goal by teammate Henrik Zetterberg, not visible, against San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, foreground, in the second period in Game 5 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal playoff game in Detroit, Saturday. (AP/Paul Sancya)
The Wings have won two in a row since the boisterous Swede was reinserted after recuperating from a left eye injury that kept him out of the first three games, and a decisive 4-1 victory Saturday has given them a 3-2 advantage in the NHL Western Conference semifinal.
"He's a competitive, compassionate guy who plays hard," said coach Mike Babcock. "You're not going to out-will Homer."
The Holmstrom-Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk line was dominant. Each scored a goal and the trio accumulated eight points.
"He gives me and Pavel a bit more time with the puck because they always have to have an eye on him, too," said Zetterberg.
Babcock's strategy of using the trio against the Jonathan Cheechoo-Joe Thornton-Milan Michalek line has paid off. The Sharks' big unit was a big fat zero on the Game 5 scoresheet.
Mikael Samuelsson also scored for the Red Wings, while Marcel Goc scored for San Jose.
Detroit was 2-for-6 and San Jose was 0-for-6 on power plays.
"Since Homer came back, our power play has been way better," said Babcock.
Game 6 is in San Jose on Monday night.
The Red Wings will be without top-four defenceman Mathieu Schneider. The overtime hero of Game 4 broke his left wrist on his third shift.
"He's done," said Babcock.
Nicklas Lidstrom took command. He kept reminding the forwards to get the puck deep in the San Jose end so the remaining defencemen could get on and off the ice for rests.
"The team really stepped up," said the captain, who was outstanding in logging 29 minutes of ice time. "The forwards helped out the D when we got down to five defencemen."
San Jose scored first for the fourth time in the series, and Goc's shot from beyond a faceoff circle was one that Dominik Hasek should have stopped.
"All of a sudden the puck was in the net," said Hasek. "I felt terrible about it."
He atoned for the mistake with a flawless performance the rest of the way. San Jose had most of the good early scoring chances and could easily have been up by two or three goals at the first intermission.
"It was kind of a punch in the gut to be 1-1 at that point," said Sharks coach Ron Wilson.
The Red Wings rallied, as they have throughout the series, and Zetterberg tied it 3:10 into the second period when Holmstrom slipped him a cross-crease pass that he shovelled into the open side of the net. Sharks defenceman Kyle McLaren had dropped his stick so couldn't intervene effectively.
Datsyuk jumped on a Evgeni Nabokov blunder to make it 2-1. Nabokov was 20 feet in front of his net getting a puck when Datsyuk guessed correctly that he'd direct it to the right boards. Datsyuk darted that way, knocked the puck out of the air and shot into the empty net at 16:13 for his team-high fifth goal of the playoffs.
"Their second goal was, obviously, a backbreaker emotionally," said Wilson.
The Sharks began taking too many penalties and Detroit padded its lead on third-period power plays. Samuelsson connected at 3:46 with a slap shot from the circle to the left of Nabokov.
Todd Bertuzzi was getting in a few good licks along the way.
"Bertuzzi skated the best he's skated in the playoffs," said Babcock.
Holmstrom made it 4-1 at 6:14 with Mike Grier off for crashing into Hasek. Holmstrom camped at the front of the crease and redirected in a Zetterberg pass from behind the net.
"The pass was right on my tape and I tried to get (the shot) high and it worked this time," said Holmstrom.
He grinned and sloughed off praise when it was put to him that the series changed in Detroit's favour when he returned to the lineup.
"I wouldn't go that far," he said. "They've got a great team.
"We've just got to stick to our game plan, play hard, and do what we've been doing."
Thornton threw a shoulder into Kirk Maltby after a whistle and was sent off for roughing shortly after Holmstrom's goal. The Sharks weren't going to mount a rally from the penalty box.
"They were down so they wanted to get into scrums and suck us in," said Holmstrom. "We kept our cool and didn't take any bad penalties."
Wilson wouldn't knock his players for reacting the way they did to being down three goals.
"Isn't that what hockey is? We got physical," he said. "We got some guys showing emotion.
"I'll take that anytime. If we had just rolled over, I wouldn't have been very happy."
Wilson wasn't about to concede the series.
"There were a lot of things that we can build from in this game and we will go forward," he said.
Notes: The Red Wings had a 33-24 shots advantage. They've outshot the Sharks 168-116 in the series . . . San Jose F Bill Guerin remained at home recovering from a deep cut on the right side of his face near the mouth after taking a puck in the face in Game 4 . . . Because of the 2 p.m. ET start, San Jose players had their pre-game meal served them beginning at 7:30 a.m. . . . On the plus-minus chart, Johan Franzen leads Detroit with a plus 7 . . . All-time leaders in playoff goals by defencemen: Paul Coffey 59, Denis Potvin 56, Ray Bourque 41, Al MacInnis 39, Nicklas Lidstrom 38.