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How did Red Wings pull off Game 5 miracle?

Author Michael Rosenberg. Published on May 21, 2011 - 3:27 am (1592 views — 925 words)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — You might want to be careful as you read this column, because it comes with a disclaimer: I have no earthly idea what I just saw. I have no clue how the Red Wings beat the Sharks to keep their season alive. I just know they did.

Just call this The Miracle at HP Pavilion. OK, I'll admit: That's a stupid name for a miracle. I don't care. The Sharks skated circles around the Wings, figuratively and sometimes literally. They built leads of 2-0 and 3-1, and the way Sunday night's game was going, both leads seemed insurmountable. But the Red Wings ...surmounted. It was incomprehensible.

This was a Grand Theft Hockey, and I'm still trying to reconstruct the crime scene. I know center Pavel Datsyuk was great when he had to be, in the third period, and goalie Jimmy Howard was great when he had to be, for the entire game. Sharks coach Todd McLellan told investigators afterward that his team had "two-on-ones ... three-on-ones ..." and I wanted to give him a glass of water and a cold compress.

"We didn't play a poor game," McLellan said. "And that's hard to swallow. I thought we actually had some poise and composure in the third period."

McLellan slipped and referred to "our collapse," though his lawyers may argue he was under heavy interrogation at the time. Anyway, it wasn't really a collapse. The Wings had scored three goals on five shots.

Early in the third period, the Wings were down, 3-1, and the math was a head-scratcher: They obviously needed three more goals, but how would they even get three more shots? Wherever the Wings tried to go, the Sharks were already there. Whatever the Wings tried to do, the Sharks had already done.

And yet: Jonathan Ericsson scored. Danny Cleary scored. The game was tied and the arena was quiet — everybody knew the Sharks should have wrapped up Game 5 long ago.

It felt like the Wings could have been down 6-1 instead of 2-1. As hockey people say, Jimmy Howard needed to stand on his head. Also, he needed to hide the goal in a dark basement so the Sharks couldn't find it. Alas, that is not legal. Trust me. I checked.

The Wings were playing for their season, but coach Mike Babcock said bluntly that "we weren't competitive enough up front." Yet Howard, who has been perpetually underestimated, kept his team in the game. The final shot totals were Sharks 42, Wings 22. My first question for Howard was borne of curiosity: Aren't you tired?

"I had a great night's sleep last night," he said. "I had a good nap today after the pregame meal. So I felt good out there."

If sleep is all it took to play like this, the best goaltenders in the world would be cats. Howard had a night for the ages. And still that doesn't explain what happened.

Datsuk was his usual brilliant self-lifting sticks, stealing pucks, leaving no fingerprints.

"He just amazes us every single night," Howard said. "He's a world-class player.

Howard also said, "You can't say anything bad about the guy," but naturally, on this crazy night, Babcock did just that: "I didn't think he was great early." That may be partly because Datsyuk had an injured wrist. You know the wrist is in bad shape because he didn't take a single faceoff. ("Good investigative reporting," Babcock cracked, when somebody pointed that out.)

Meanwhile, the team's best postseason scorer, Johan Franzen, is hobbling so much that he got benched. The Mule is battling a bum hoof and didn't even play in the third period.

So when Tomas Holmstrom shot high for the unassisted game-winner, it was still hard to believe. The Sharks dominated almost the whole game. They had way more shots, much better chances. The only thing Detroit really did better than San Jose was the only thing that matters: Find the back of the net.

The Sharks had to be so shocked I didn't know if I should go in their locker room to ask questions or send flowers. Coach Todd McLellan didn't even address his team afterward. There was nothing he could say.

The Wings still have to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road to advance to the conference finals. I don't know what to make of their chances. Is it a bad sign that they have to beat a team that thoroughly outplayed them in Game 5? Or will the Sharks be so stunned that the Wings have a huge mental edge?

How the heck should I know? I can't even figure out in the game they already played.

Whatever happens the rest of the way, give the Wings credit for winning this one. They had every reason to crack. They did not get catch any breaks from the officials. Nicklas Lidstrom was whistled for tripping when his stick got caught, and Datsyuk was whistled for holding for reasons that remain a mystery to me.

And, as I may have mentioned: They were severely outplayed.

It didn't matter. Howard was so great, Datsyuk was so masterful, and the Wings so mentally tough that they somehow found a way to win. I don't know what that way was, exactly. It might take me six months and four private detectives to figure it out. I just know they did it. The Red Wings are alive, well and going home for Game 6. What a resilient team. What an incredible sport.