The San Jose Sharks avoided a major collapse by holding off the resilient Detroit Red Wings to reach the Western Conference Finals with a tense 3-2 Game 7 win on Thursday.
After squandering a 3-0 series lead by losing three straight games to the Red Wings, San Jose took an early edge with first-period goals from Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture with goaltender Antti Niemi’s 38 saves helping to hold the advantage.
“What a ride that was,” San Jose’s Patrick Marleau told reporters, having given his team a 3-1 lead in the third period. “We would have liked to finish a little earlier, but what can you say about Detroit — they have veteran guys and they always battle back.”
In the conference finals, the Sharks will take on the top-seed Vancouver Canucks, a team that also lost a 3-0 lead, before prevailing in a seventh game in their first-round clash with Chicago.
Detroit was trying to become just the fourth team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0.
The Red Wings had made a habit of third period rallies against the Sharks, overcoming final-period deficits to claim Game 5 and Game 6, and they tried to pull off one more in the series finale.
The visitors entered the third trailing 2-1, after Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg cut the deficit to one with a score at 13 minutes, 10 seconds in the second, but Marleau stretched the advantage to 3-1 on his first score of the series for San Jose with 7 minutes, 47 seconds remaining.
The Red Wings answered quickly on a Pavel Datsyuk goal with 6 minutes, 1 second left that made it a one-goal affair.
Detroit pressed for the equalizer in the final minutes, but could not find a way past Niemi, who made a terrific glove save on a Datsyuk slap shot with 28 seconds left.
“You’re disappointed tonight for sure. You thought in your heart and mind that you were winning and moving on,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You have very few chances at winning and you want to make good on your opportunities.”