We have seen it before with the San Jose Sharks. A team that has a terrific regular season and rolls though the beginning rounds of the playoffs, only to run out of gas before ever getting a sniff at sports's ultimate trophy. Last year they rolled through the first two rounds before getting swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champions – the Chicago Blackhawks. Two years before that they lost in six games to the Dallas Stars in the second round.
But that can't possibly happen again this time around, can it?
That question remains to be answered but as it looks right now, this story might have a different ending. The Sharks are currently playing the best hockey of any of the remaining eight teams in the playoffs, thanks in large part to goaltender Antti Niemi. Niemi, who was the goaltender that sent them packing last season as a member of the Blackhwaks, has gotten hot at the right time and might just put the Sharks over the edge. That's if he can continue to find lightning in a bottle, for the second consecutive year. The 27-year-old already has his name etched on the cup and that experience is something the Sharks crease has lacked in the past.
Neimi came up big in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Red Wings, making 33 saves to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Not to mention he had an impressive shutout streak, that is until Henrik Zetterberg ended it at 112 minutes and 31 seconds, with just 6:02 left to play in regulation. So far in the series, he has stopped 57 of 59 shots, after struggling to remain consistent in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings.
“He's a steady guy. He makes the saves he should make and he makes a lot of saves he shouldn't make,” forward Dany Heatley said.
On the offensive side of the puck the Sharks have managed to turn it on, especially on the power play. In the first round, the Sharks power play was just 2-for-23 but already has two goals against the Red Wings. Much of this success comes from the Sharks ability to out-muscle Detroit and get to the loose pucks in the offensive zone. It leads to more chances and they have been able to capitalize on those chances.
While the Sharks are making the most of their chances, the Red Wings have come out in both games looking sluggish, failing to skate with the Sharks for the first period. They might have actually played their best hockey of the series in the last ten minutes of game two but they were in a two goal hole that they simply couldn't climb out of, despite the noticeable desperation.
Now the series moves to Detroit, where the Red Wings will play the next two games at home – the most important home games of the season and while erasing a 2-0 series lead in the NHL playoffs is not easy, it does happen with some regularity.
But if the Red Wings plan on coming back, they'll need to play flawless hockey!
Photo Courtesy of: ASSOCIATED PRESS