WCSF Game 2: Niclas ‘Secret Weapon’ Wallin and Ian ‘Secret Weapon ptII’ White score in 2-1 win, series tightens as Sharks take 2-0 lead
The San Jose Sharks broke out their secret weapon in a 2-1 afternoon win over the Detroit Red Wings, earning a 2-0 series lead in the WCSF. Noted playoff sniper Niclas Wallin struck for his fourth career playoff goal, all of them game winners. In Carolina that lead to two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, a championship for the Hurricanes in 2006, and a ‘secret weapon’ nickname from fans as a result of his clutch big game success. In San Jose the 36-year old defenseman followed his best defensive game of the playoffs in game 5 against LA with even larger offensive performances in the first 2 games of the Western Conference Semifinals against Detroit. Taken along for the ride was Wallin’s defensive partner Ian White, who scored scored his first playoff goal on the power play with a blast through traffic on the point.
Up 1-0, Wallin blew by Todd Bertuzzi on the right wing before snapping a high shot on goaltender Jimmy Howard before Niklas Kronwall could come over. The puck deflected off of Howard’s glove, then quickly off his shoulder and face mask, and spun up in the air. It had enough english to carry it into the net for the second goal of the game. “It’s one of those things, you keep shooting,” Wallin said of his fourth game winning goal, the first not scored in overtime. “I usually get 3-4 shots a night, eventually one of them is going to go in. It is the whole team, it doesn’t matter who scores it.” Wallin and White combined for 11 shots on goal in the first game of the WCSF, but remained off the scoreboard despite creating a number of scoring chances. Sunday in game 2 Wallin and White combined for 2 shots and 8 blocked shots, yet each potted a goal against the regular season Central Divsion champs and last year’s Calder finalist Jimmy Howard.
White’s goal came on a first period power play after a give-and-go with Dany Heatley. Heatley drove down the right wing drawing 2 Wings to him. “He found a way to get it back to me,” Wallin said of Heatley’s feed on the play.
The Red Wings came out aggressive in game 1, challenging the puck carrier, getting bodies in front of the net and fighting for space near the blue paint. The Sharks doubled down with the same approach in the second period, kept their foot on the gas and broke the game open in the final 20 minutes. Prior to game 2, both teams stressed a need to keep potent power plays off the ice. That didn’t happen. “I had quite a bit of time up top and a lot of traffic, so I just made sure I put it in the corner. I saw a lot of net and it went in.” Howard had 4 Wings and 2 Sharks to contend with in front of the net. He was straining to look to his left, as the puck beat him cleanly on the right side.
The Sharks forward corps are divided into three solid scoring lines, and a fourth line that can add energy in critical moments. The SJ defense was described by one major pundit as “Dan Boyle, and a bunch of other guys.” The “other guys” were paired off with a left and right shot, and a defensive and offensive element on each unit. Sunday the alleged defensive defenseman created several scoring chances and made an impact on the score sheet as well. In the second period an offensive rush by Marc-Edouard Vlasic was followed the next shift by a dazzling offensive display by 250-pound blueliner Douglas Murray.
“Douglas Murray looked like (Sharks GM and former Norris Trophy winner) Douglas Wilson,” NBC rinkside analyst Darren Pang said of Murray from his perch on an elevated toolbox between both benches. Murray beat a Red Wing off the wall in the corner, drove the net to fire a backhand shot on goal, than tracked his rebound furthur out for a second shot on goal. His defensive partner, Dan Boyle, registered 8 shots on goal and usually keys the Sharks offense, but it is high time for the rest of the hockey media to start treating San Jose’s balanced defense with the same respect as it’s forward corps.
Special teams was the story of the first period on Sunday, and it became an increasingly important factor in the second period as well. The Sharks took 2 roughing minors in the first by Clowe and Vlasic, and Benn Ferriero took a 4-minute penalty on a questionable call. Justin Abdelkader checked Ferriero’s stick up, then fell face first into it. NHL players are expected to be responsible for their sticks at all times, but a player lifting a stick and face planting into it may be too much to ask at that high a speed.
“Obviously losing 2-1, we got a 4 minute power play early in the game and I didn’t think, with the exception of about 50 seconds of it, I don’t think we think that part of the power play was any good,” Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said in a post-game press conference. Friday in game 1 it was Detroit with a number of solid clears to run down the bulk of their 4-minute penalty kill. Sunday the Sharks did the same. The Sharks ran 1:40 off the clock before Detroit could even set up in the zone, but Niklas Kronwall created a great opportunity with a point shot late, and Pavel Datsyuk rang a shot high off the post (photo above).
There were a number of adjustments made in the game by Detroit. In addition to shuffling forward partners for Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Lidstrom also had a new d-partner while Brad Stuart was in the locker room. The Wings also changed up a very aggressive penalty kill to one more similar to what Los Angeles used against San Jose in the first round. They utilized three players closer to the net, with one challenging the puck carrier. LA made a number of quality adjustments against San Jose, but the Sharks kept adapting and finding different ways to beat them. Detroit may suffer a similar fate.
The second period ignited hostilities between the teams, but San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan does not believe “hate” is the appropriate word. “I don’t even like that word. It is a competitive hard series between two very good teams,” McLellan said. “Hatred, everybody gets a little pissed off if you will at the opponent at certain times, for whatever reason. There is a ton of emotion in the game, and that is what makes it great. I don’t see that going away at all. They play a little different than LA did.”
Still, there was considerable emotion and tension on the ice in the second period. Joe Pavelski, one of the kindest players off the ice and San Jose’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy this season due to his work in the community, cross checked Johan Franzen early in the first period after a shot on Niemi. Holmstrom took a penalty for a half nelson on Murray in the offensive zone, then Pavelski took an interference penalty trying to hold up a rushing forward. Between those plays Antti Niemi closed the door on a Darren Helm shorthanded breakaway, bailing defenseman Jason Demers out for a turnover at his own blueline.
Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry took umbrage to a snow shower Pavelski sprayed Howard with in the first game, and he did it again on a subsequent shift in the second period. After a Wellwood shot on goal, Pavelski danced around Rafalski and came to a hockey stop directly in front of goalie Jimmy Howard. Friday Howard took a matching minor penalty cross checking Pavelski, Sunday it was Pavel Datsyuk wrapping him up from immediately from behind as Rafalski and Holmstrom got their gloves up in his face.
Neccessary or incindiary? Rinkside, NBC’s Darren Pang noted that Howard didn’t see it coming with his head down to make the save. But he added a question, “what happens if the puck squirts loose, you have to go there,” he said. In the post-game press conference Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said that his bench repeatedly ask the referees about snow showers, one by Pavelski and Thornton, and there were possibly others.
Asked about the incidents, Babcock reversed the question back on the media. “This is what I have found over the years. Any time I make a comment about any of this stuff, it just comes back to bite me in the butt,” Babcock said. “But I think that is a really good question.” San Jose head coach Todd McLellan again stood above the controversy, as he did in LA at least twice in the first and sixth game. “I have no time for gimmicks and that type of crap. If our players are doing that, they are going to hear from me first,” McLellan said. “But they are going to hear from me even more when they don’t go to the net and stop on a loose puck. If you go back and look at them, the pucks are bobbling around.” He added a final conclusion of his own. “They know it is not a circus, and it’s not about a clown show. We want them going to the blue paint just like the other team is,” McLellan said.
It is not about gimmicks, it is about gamesmanship, and it was on display clearly by both sides on Sunday. In the past, San Jose has taken what was given them without always fighting for their side of an argument. Hasek stopped play after one goal in San Jose, skated to center ice and had a 2 minute discussion with officials as all of the players on the ice looked on. It stopped the team in front of him from rolling with the momentum, gave his team time to rest, and put the focus on the officials instead of on himself or his team. Heatley may have drawn the ire of two Canadian franchises two summers ago, but one of his off scoresheet contributions is a regular dialouge with officials, regularly getting under the skin of opponents, sometimes offering a legal elbow sometimes illegal. It was needed.
Sunday in the second period the game started to unravel. Bertuzzi pasted Heatley up against the boards in front of his bench, then grappled with Ben Eager in front of his own. Bertuzzi got Eager in a headlock, then fell back onto his bench in a pile of bodies. Only Eager’s skates were visible in pileup. Both received matching roughing penalties. After yelling that he wanted to fight while in the penalty box, Eager jabbed and then dropped his gloves with Bertuzzi only to have the 6-foot-3, 225-pound forward stare at him blankly. Eager was given a 10-minute misconduct, but no additional 2-minute minor, a controversial move according to some in Detroit.
The play in front of the net, and the play along the boards heated up. Head coach Todd Mclellan was asked to point out a critical defensive play in the game, and he chose the last faceoff won by Joe Thornton. A more representive effort was a board battle earlier in the game. Two Sharks defenseman and a forward each one a positional battle below their own goal line, then helped move the puck to start the transition up ice.
1-on-1 battles, and success in the faceoff circle, improved in San Jose’s favor as the game went on. After a tough first period, the Sharks went 18-9 from the dot in the second according to McLellan. Gamesmanship by Detroit was on display in the faceoff circle and on a protracted icing too. After a scramble in front of Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk cleared the puck the length of the and head to his bench for a line change. On the ensuing faceoff, Valtteri Filppula took his place before he was summoned back to the bench by the officials. After a phone consultation, than a consultation with Babcock, the faceoff setup was let stand. The 3-4 minute delay started with Justin Abdelkader going to the locker room for an equipment problem. He was able to return to the bench before play resumed, in part due to Pavel Datsyuk’s feigned surprise, and his taking a considerable amount of time to skate to and back from the faceoff circle. It continued in the third, with Danny Cleary backing out of his faceoff draw to consult with a pair of linemates, while Logan Couture and the linesman were ready to restart action.
Through it all, the goaltenders on each side of the ice were exemplary. Niemi is regaining the lock-it-down style he perfected during a run of 34 starts, and goaltender Jimmy Howard is displaying a mental toughness that he was questioned for in 2010. “We needed him, in 6 of the first 10 minutes we were shorthanded,” McLellan said of Niemi. “He made some very good saves. The momentum swing there, the ability to play with a lead finally, was due in large part in his ability to stop the puck on the penalty kill.”
Asked if it was the best game the Sharks had played this postseason, McLellan grudgingly addmitted that it was. “Perhaps, it was the most consistent. We were happy with our game in game 1,” McLellan said. “It is hard to compare the intensity and the battle, battle ability if you will, for lack of a better word. It was a harder game to play tonight, so I would have to agree with you.” Now it is on to game 3 at the Joe in Detroit, a building where the Sharks have historically struggled. Recent regular season and postseason success aside, San Jose needs to convince itself that it is actually down 2-0 and come out like a house on fire. Give the Red Wings an inch, and they will take a Detroit mile (or in this blog’s case, an Otsego mile).
A photo gallery from the game is available here.
[Update] Sharks head to Hockeytown, playing at The Joe and even more on those snow showers – Mark Emmons for the Working the Corners blog.
[Update] Drew Sharp: Sharks’ Antti Niemi winning battle in goal vs. Red Wings – Detroit Free Press.
Niemi and Jimmy Howard have been equally brilliant in net through the first two games. These were two of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL during the regular season, but they have combined for only a total of six goals through two games. But the difference in these first two games is that the Wings wasted Howard’s sterling efforts, whereas the Sharks soared a little higher emotionally thanks to Niemi’s performance.
Nothing rattles a team more in a tightly contested playoff series than a goalie suddenly leaking oil. But Niemi was the biggest star of the first two games. “He was outstanding,” said San Jose defenseman Ian White, who tallied the game’s first goal in Sunday’s Game 2. “He made some huge saves. It boosts the confidence of the whole club. You can feel it out there. When your goalie’s hot, everybody rises up and plays that much better.”
[Update3] http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/7570/wings-sharks-lebruns-game-2-breakdown – Pierre LeBrun for ESPN.com.
[Update4] Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard vows he won’t be frustrated by Sharks’ tactics – MLive.com.