SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A terrific start ended up not mattering, because the middle and the end played out just as it has for every other opponent who has visited the Sharks.
The Detroit Red Wings stumbled in their bid to become the second team of the season to win in regulation at SAP Center on Thursday night, falling, 4-1. Jimmy Howard had a rough second period, his teammates failed to challenge on a handful of power plays, and were outworked by the Sharks, who improved to 16-1-3 at home.
The Wings approach the first 10 minutes of a game at San Jose as a matter of survival -- come out of it without a significant deficit, and exhale. They did that well enough, even after Joe Thornton showed why he's the NHL's pass master when he drove the puck into the right corner, eyed Joe Pavelski, waited for Pavelski to lose Henrik Zetterberg, and then threaded the puck onto Pavelsk's stick. Pavelski delivered on a one-tap wrister that slid by Jimmy Howard at 4:59.
With six minutes to go, the Wings had to spend two minutes killing a penalty. Soon after that task was accomplished, Tomas Tatar showed off why he Slovakia wanted him on their Olympic team. He had the puck behind San Jose's net, waited, saw Marc-Edouard Vlasic had lost his stick and stepped out and deked to a backhand for a goal.
That left the first period with a score of 1-1, but the harder, more impressive work was put in by the Wings. They were without Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm among others, leaving them fielding one scoring line.
Howard was good, too, especially during the a power play that bridged heavily into the second period, and which segued into a furious few more minutes for the Sharks. Six saves later it was still a 1-1 game, and then the Wings got a man advantage when Todd Bertuzzi drew a hooking call on Andrew Desjardins. The Sharks responded by barely letting the Wings set up, and then Desjardins amended when he angled the puck in from the boards, a bad goal by Howard to give up, midway through the second period.
What had started so well was further dismantled with seven minutes to go in the period, when Pavelski netted no. 2 with a quick move just outside the crease, catching Brad Stuart's rebound just before Zetterberg got to it. Dan Boyle made it 4-1 when he used a power play to score from the right circle, sending a great shot sliding along the ice. It wasn't as bad a goal to give up as Desjardins, but Howard could have done better. His teammates manage eight shots on Antti Niemi.
Howard's four goals on 23 shots left him watching the third period, as Petr Mrazek took over in net. The hook came after such a good outing by Howard on Saturday at Dallas, but continues a trend that's seen him struggled since November. The Wings had hoped his being name to Team USA on New Year's Day would be a confidence booster, but the verdict remains pending.
The change in goal didn't matter to the Sharks; they'd put in the hard work to continue a dominance at on home ice. The third period degenerated into little more than one long scuffle, which might have made for an interesting next meeting -- but these two former Western Conference rivals are done with one another for the season.
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