SAN JOSE, Calif. – If the Detroit Red Wings could play everyone else as well as they do against the San Jose Sharks they wouldn’t have to fight to make it to the playoffs.
Derek Meech scored a tiebreaking power-play goal early in the third period and the Red Wings rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Sharks for the third straight time this season, 4-2 Tuesday night.
“You always like to measure yourself up to the best in the league,” Meech said. “That’s the position we’ve been in the past couple of years. These guys are at the top of the league. Every team is ready to play these guys all the time. We just have to make sure now that we’re ready to play every team that we come across.”
Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, and Patrick Eaves also scored for the Red Wings, who lost eight of 11 games in between two wins in San Jose.
Those kinds of struggles have left the Red Wings in a battle for the playoffs after winning the Western Conference the past two seasons. Detroit is tied for seventh in the conference after its latest win.
“If you can do it against good teams why can’t you do it every night?” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s what we have to talk about. We have to do better every night.”
Joe Thornton scored a pair of goals for the Sharks, who have only two regulation losses in their past 12 games – both at home against Detroit.
The Red Wings and Sharks have fought for the best regular-season record in the conference the past two years. This season, they are more likely to be first-round playoff opponents instead of battling for the top seed. That would be bad news for San Jose, which has not made it out of the second round the past four seasons, including last year’s first-round loss to Anaheim.
Detroit erased the two-goal deficit with two late scores in the first period and then won it in the third. With Ryane Clowe in the penalty box for boarding, Meech scored on a bad angle shot from the side of the net that deflected in off goalie Evgeni Nabokov to make it 3-2.
“I was just trying to throw it at him and see what happens,” Meech said. “Luckily it went in, so it was nice.”
Less than five minutes later, Eaves took a pass from the point from Brian Rafalski and scored an easy goal to make it 4-2. The Sharks couldn’t score the rest of the way against Jimmy Howard, who had 32 saves.
“I still think they are one of the best teams in the league,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “We know how to beat them. It’s a matter of committing to a certain style.”
This was San Jose’s final home game for a month. The team starts a six-game road trip on Thursday and then will be off for the Olympic break before returning to host New Jersey on March 2.
Thornton got the Sharks off to a fast start by scoring his two goals on rebounds of shots by Dany Heatley. Thornton had gone 15 regular-season games without scoring against Detroit before breaking through twice in a span of 3:34.
The lead was short-lived for San Jose as Detroit scored twice in just over 4 minutes to tie it late in the first. Cleary struck first when he one-timed a centring pass from Valtteri Filppula past Nabokov.
Then with the Red Wings on a two-man advantage when Rob Blake was called for delay of game with Patrick Marleau already in the box, Zetterberg knocked in a rebound of a shot by Tomas Holmstrom to tie the game with 1:02 left in the first.
“We let them back into the game,” Thornton said. “You give skilled teams a 5-on-3 and they usually make you pay.”
NOTES: Holmstrom returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a broken foot and had two assists. … The Sharks were without two of their usual defencemen with Dan Boyle (upper body injury) missing his fifth straight game and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower body injury) missing his second straight. … The Sharks honoured their eight Olympians before the game. … Detroit D Niklas Kronwall did not play the third period because of an injured ankle and will likely miss Wednesday’s game in Anaheim. … San Jose F Jamie McGinn was recalled from the minors and played on the fourth line.