DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings have accomplished a lot over the last two decades, winning four Stanley Cups in six trips to the finals during the longest active post-season streak in sports.
The Red Wings, though, have never done what they’re trying to do now.
If fact, just two teams in NHL history have won a series after trailing 3-0 as Detroit does against the San Jose Sharks.
“We’re looking at it as what a great feeling it would be if we could be the team to do that again,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said Wednesday. “In doing that, you can only look at the next game and not the four games.”
Detroit will host the top-seeded Sharks in Game 4 on Thursday night in their Western Conference semifinal, hoping to give itself a chance to join a select group.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, in the 1942 final against Detroit, and the New York Islanders, in the 1975 quarter-final against Pittsburgh, are the only teams in NHL history to win a series after trailing 0-3.
“That’s how hard it is to do,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “And yet, I figure every 33 years or so you’ve got to be due. It must be our turn.”
The Sharks look like they’re finally taking their turn in the playoffs, moving within a game of making it to the conference finals for first time since 2004 when the franchise made its longest run. They’ve won each of the first three games of the series by a score of 4-3, including Tuesday’s overtime victory after trailing by two goals with 13 minutes left in regulation. Their winning streak stands at six games.
San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov acknowledged being surprised to have Detroit on the brink of elimination already.
“But it’s not like we won three games by mistake,” he said. He also said the Red Wings, the two-time defending Western Conference champions, were “the worst team” to have down 3-0.
“If there is going to be a team, they could be the team the team that could come back,” Nabokov said.
San Jose centre Manny Malhotra said he and his teammates are like the Red Wings, focusing only on the next game.
“Our mindset is, we don’t have four games left,” Malhotra said. “We know they’re a desperate, experienced and talented team, and we’re going to be determined to match their intensity and sense of urgency.”
The Sharks have taken control of the second-round series in large part because Nabokov has been more effective than rookie Jimmy Howard. They have also dominated late, rallying from a deficit in the final period of the past two games.
Now, they want to slam the door on Detroit’s bid to advance to the conference finals for a fourth straight year.
“We have to compete like it’s the start of the series,” Sharks defenceman Rob Blake said. “This will be their best game. They have a great tradition and they’ll play to it.”
If Detroit can figure out a way to win Game 4, it might take some comfort in knowing Montreal rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate Washington this post-season and the Capitals came back to beat the New York Rangers after losing three of the first four games last year in the playoffs.
“History can be made, right? It’s happened before,” said forward Kris Draper, who has helped Detroit win four Stanley Cups since 1997. “Has it happened a lot? No. Have teams done it? Yes.
“We’ve done a lot of things in the post-season to be proud of. To look at the big picture, it’s tough and everything is against us. But we have such a great group in here that we want to keep going.”