A series that looked to be headed to a sweep by Friday has been extended thanks to the Red Wings’ performance in Game 4. Tonight we find out if that was the start of something, or a bump on San Jose’s road to the third round.
Keys to the game for the Sharks:
Score Early: The Wings have had some confidence issues in this series and if they face an early deficit, the Sharks’ job will be that much easier.
Own the Second: The Sharks love the second period and can use it to wipe away whatever the Wings may have been able to accomplish in the first period. If they own it, the third period’s up for grabs.
Niemi: Was more impressive in Detroit than he was in San Jose. Tonight needs to bring his Detroit performances home.
Doesn’t look like there’ll be any lineup changes tonight for San Jose, but look out for Ryane Clowe (who should be out due to suspension for his jumping of Abdelkader at the end of Game 4, but he was given roughing instead). He’s been talking about getting back at Kronwall for Nik’s Game 3 hit on Heatley. I hope he tries, repeatedly, and takes himself out of the actual game.
Keys to the game for the Wings:
Score Early: I assume the Wings will come out strong, and they need to make good on that effort with a goal or two or they run a serious risk of fading as the game goes on.
Own All Three: The Wings owned the first period Friday, gave up the second and took partial ownership of the third. They need to be better than that for longer than that: sustained excellence in each frame.
Special Teams: This may be critical. The Sharks are likely headed for more power plays than the Wings tonight, so the Detroit penalty killers need to be at their best. And when the Wings do get power plays themselves, they need to convert. In an arena as loudly demonstrative and influential over the officials, special teams could make the game.
There are no lineup changes planned for the Wings, despite Franzen’s obvious issues turning Friday night. Babcock obviously feels he can effectively play through it, a belief that has not been borne out thus far, even accounting for an improved outing in Game 4. Babs did leave some room for a possible change, though.
The Wings face a huge challenge tonight. As much as they seem to enjoy playing on the road, playing in San Jose is no joke and there’s no doubt this will be a tough one to pull out. They just need to bring their best and commit to defensive sacrifice as a baseline for reversing the flow to the offensive side. They can match the Sharks toe-to-toe if they want to.
Should be a stressful game.