Somewhere between Detroit and San Jose, the beleaguered Sharks located the composure they'd lost during Thursday's 7-1 thrashing.
And with it they found a ticket to the Western Conference final.
After spotting the Wings the first goal in Game 5, an event that might have sent previous San Jose squads into a tizzy, the new attitude Sharks rebounded with a pair of their own -- including
The Sharks have been saying all along that this is a different team. That all the adversity they'd faced while building up a rep as perhaps the greatest underachievers in North American sports had toughened them mentally, had prepared them to exorcise the demons of the past four seasons. That they could put that Game 4 disaster behind them because this was their time.
But talk, as they say, is cheap. And after those years of bitter disappointment, the hockey world was looking for something a little more concrete than locker room platitudes.
So when they failed to capitalize on a dominant first period, those little doubts reappeared. And when
And then this team did something that previous San Jose teams could not: they came back. Just like they had in Game 3, a contest in which they trailed 3-1, and in Game 2, when they tallied twice in the third to win.
Maybe they were right all along. Maybe this team is different.
Because these Sharks aren't just deeper, faster and more resilient than their bumbling predecessors. They're blessed with the one weapon those teams lacked: production from their biggest stars.
Of all people, it was
"We couldn't be happier for him," coach
Not that he's gassed that rep after one series, but Thornton continued down the path to redemption in the third. With Heatley on his tail behind the Detroit net, Rafalski blindly threw a pass along the wall. The puck landed directly on Thornton's tape, but was there just a fraction of a second before he found Marleau alone in the slot. Another fraction later and the former captain scored the eventual game-winner. All told, the trio of Thornton, Heatley and Marleau combined for seven goals and 19 points over the five games. Give GM
And then there was
Cup-worthy goaltending? Sure looked like it, especially in the final minutes as the Wings went into full-on desperation mode (a little too late) in an effort to tie it up.
The inability to channel that desperation earlier had to make this a bitterly disappointing loss for the Red Wings, who'd advanced to the Stanley Cup final each of the past two seasons and were favored by many to make it three in a row.
No doubt there'll be some wondering if things might have been different if
It was a hard luck loss for Howard, who vindicated himself with another strong effort, especially in the first when the Sharks controlled the play and generated a number of high quality chances. And for Franzen, whose assist on Rafalski's goal gave him a point in all 12 of the team's games this spring, tying the club record set by
But the Wings knew it wasn't going to be easy winning three straight against one of the best teams in hockey. Worn down by a tough seven-game series against the Coyotes and unable to make any hay on the power play, they just didn't have enough gas left to extend the series to a sixth game.
The Sharks will have to be a whole lot better than good if they want to finish kicking those demons to the curb. After all, no team has won the Cup with eight wins since 1967. And no one remembers a team that loses in the conference final.
But there's something about these Sharks, isn't there? For the first time, there's reason to believe.