Fri May 13 10:29am EDT
According to the venerable Elias Sports Bureau, the San Jose Sharks' Western Conference semifinal victory over the Detroit Red Wings marked the first time in NHL history that six games in a playoff series were decided by one goal. They were one empty-netter in Game 6 away from it having been all seven.
So you can, in fact, quantify that the Sharks and Red Wings played one of the most thrilling semifinal series in Stanley Cup Playoff history.
Or you can simply listen to Coach Todd McLellan's non-scientific analysis:
"Hell of a series, hell of a game."
Coming up, a look back at seven reasons why San Jose vs. Detroit was an instant classic; from Datsyuk to Jumbo to Thursday night's 3-2 Game 7 win for the black and teal.
True story: We were at the Irish Channel in D.C. after a Washington Capitals' home game, watching the end of the third period of Game 1. As should be the case in any quality hockey bar or pub, a pool was formed to pick the player who'd score the game-winning goal. We drafted names in several rounds until everyone had their picks and pooled their cash.
Then this happened at 7:03 of overtime:
Turned out no one actually drafted Benn Ferriero of the Sharks.
Refunds all around.
The Jumbo Effect
The difference for Joe Thornton(notes) in this series than in previous postseason: When he didn't hit the score sheet, he wasn't invisible. He made a difference on the forecheck, and especially on defense. He was a presence in a way some of his other well-known teammates (Heatley, Marleau) were not during stretches of the series.
In Game 7, Thornton again found Setoguchi for a first-period power-play goal that gave the Sharks some vital momentum on home ice.
The level of adulation directed at Jumbo from the media and peers was palpable. He's having an MVP-level postseason.
Game 4 and The Comeback
At the time, the Red Wings' roller-coaster Game 4 victory was seen as a dramatic way to stave off elimination.
Perhaps, instead, it was the Hockey Gods calling their shot: If Detroit can blow a 3-0 lead in a game, San Jose can blow one in the series, too.
Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) scored two goals with the Wings' playoff life, and potentially his career, hanging in the balance. Zetterberg stepped up. Cleary stepped up. And then, with overtime looming, Darren Helm(notes) (!) did this:
That set the comeback in motion, as the Wings would win the third period of Game 5, kick ass in Game 6 and force a dramatic Game 7 that was in question until the final buzzer. They nearly became only the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.And they fought like hell to nearly pull it off.
A championship effort in the last four games from a locker room that has more than a few rings.
Roenick vs. Marleau
After Game 7, we found out why the San Jose Sharks pay Patrick Marleau, as the former Sharks captain scored a goal and played stellar defense in the third period to win the series — and inspire Roenick to heap praise on him after it:
In a series that didn't have many moments of on-ice controversy — headshots, War Room reviews gone awry — Roenick provided a compelling storyline for the final two games. Ultimately, he was the antagonist in Marleau's redemption story.
Mr. Howard and Mr. Hockey
There were concerns about him being a liability; he wasn't. There were concerns he couldn't be a difference-maker in a game; look at the first 40 minutes of Game 5, and you'll know he can. There were concerns the Sharks could rattle him; even when they were piling more snow on his face than Mr. Plow, Howard remained steady throughout the series.
Well, almost the entire series:
Datsyuk, The Magician
Sometimes we take greatness for granted. Sometimes the conditions have to change for us to appreciate that greatness.
Pavel Datsyuk(notes) has been a main cog in the Red Wings' championship machine for a decade. He wins Selke Trophies and Lady Byngs. His dangles pepper YouTube with clips. His subtle and sublime sense of humor amuses us.
But in this series, with the Red Wings facing a formidable foe and series deficit, Datsyuk's incredible play earned the spotlight it was given — especially when a sprained wrist he suffered on a Game 3 slash by Joe Thornton limited him. He was electrifying on every shift, exhibiting a will to win that matched his ridiculous skill-set.
The Best All-Around Player In Hockey is like the Best Pound-for-Pound Fighter In Boxing: Few can make the claim, and there's always going to be a passionate, reasoned debate about the title. Datsyuk's performance in this series makes a case; but there's a gentleman named Sidney Crosby(notes) that also makes a compelling one.
Who ya got?
Not to prolong the boxing metaphor, but the final game of this series was like watching the two best fighters in the world go toe-to-toe. The Sharks and Red Wings brought it: San Jose in the first, Detroit in the second, and then a delirious battle in the final 20 minutes. The kind of hockey where you can't remember the last time you blinked.
It didn't go to overtime, which is probably a good thing, considering the heights of blood pressure for the players and those watching around the world.
The Vancouver Canucks' and Chicago Blackhawks' seven-game first-round series also featured at 3-0 comeback. It definitely had more soap operatic storylines than this. But it also had some unsightly blowout victories that increased the drama but decreased the quality of play.
Not so for the Red Wings and Sharks. Every game was the epitome of what playoff hockey should be: Entertaining, close, intense and with the best athletes in the world elevating their performances to a championship level.