Detroit’s coach did not show a lot of emotion, as usual, when the Red Wings beat the San Jose Sharks in overtime and tied the Western Conference semifinal. “I’ll jump up and down at the end,” Babcock said Thursday, shortly after the team’s plane arrived home. “I’ll save it until then, how’s that?”
The end won’t be Saturday, when Detroit hosts Game 5, because the Red Wings’ second victory in the series after trailing 2-0 has turned the matchup into a best-of-three series.
“Everyone predicted this series was going to go six or seven. Without a doubt it’s lived up to all the hype,” Detroit’s Mathieu Schneider said. “It’s been an incredible series to play in and I’m sure it’s been a great series to watch.’
“Both teams, so much speed, that’s what playoff hockey’s all about.”
Robert Lang scored with just over 30 seconds left in regulation and Schneider’s goal won the game 16:04 into overtime.
After being within a minute of a 3-1 lead in the series, Sharks coach Ron Wilson lashed out at his players.
“We need some of our guys to wake up,” Wilson said. “You can’t take a week off in the second round of the playoffs. We also need to have more contributions and creativity from more than just one line.
“Both losses in this series hurt, but you have to bounce back. Some of the same people in the same positions put their teammates down. Those guys need to look in the mirror and say, ‘I got to do a better job because I’m letting all of my teammates down.”‘
San Jose’s top line has been tough to stop, with Joe Thornton contributing an assist in every game against Detroit. But Wilson has not been happy with the inconsistent play elsewhere on the team.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings seem to be getting contributions from all over the roster. They are also playing the physical style Babcock wants.
“The team that we’re playing is chipping it in a lot and just getting it to the net, and we’re trying to play a similar style, too,” Red Wings star defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’s paying off.”
Detroit got a lift with the return of forward Tomas Holmstrom in Game 4, playing for the first time since injuring his eye in the first-round finale against the Calgary Flames.
“I was real excited to play after sitting out for three games,” Holmstrom said. “I couldn’t do anything for, like, seven days, just rest, so that was frustrating.”
He scored a power-play goal in the final seconds of the second period to start Detroit’s comeback, but left the ice midway through the extra period because he said his skate blade broke.
Holmstrom was listed on the score sheet as a player on the ice for the winning goal, but laughed about that.
“I saw it on TV in the room,” he said.
San Jose blew a 2-0 lead against the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in last year’s conference semifinals – losing four straight – but Wilson said that is irrelevant.
“What’s that got to do with anything? Seriously, we’re playing an entirely different team with an entirely different dynamic,” he said. “We’re not the home team. There are a lot of different things going on. Last year has nothing to do with this year.”
Detroit is not counting on the Sharks crumbling again.
“I think they’re going to be fired up Saturday and we have to come out with an even better effort,” Lidstrom said. “It’s going to be a long series.”
It didn’t always look that way.
The Sharks won the series opener 2-0 and had a two-goal lead in Game 2 before losing 3-2 on Pavel Datsyuk’s goal with 1:24 left.
San Jose went back ahead with a 2-1 win in Game 3, only to lose an excellent opportunity to take command of the series Wednesday night, blowing another two-goal lead.
“We need to realize we need to keep pushing instead of sitting on a lead,” San Jose defenceman Craig Rivet said. “You can’t play like that in this league. Players are just too talented.”