DETROIT - On the verge of being history from the NHL playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings can make history.
The Wings wore smiles as they left the ice at Joe Louis Arena to a thunderous ovation Tuesday after a 3-1 victory in Game 6 over the San Jose Sharks, and did the unthinkable by erasing a 3-0 deficit in the Western semifinal.
On the strength of Valterri Filppula’s third period winner, the Wings are only the eighth team in NHL history to tie a series after losing the first three. They’ve forced a dramatic Game 7 Thursday at HP Pavilion.
The Wings can become only the fourth team in league history to come back from being behind 3-0 in a series to win if they can knock off the Sharks and advance to the Western final against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Sharks were completely outplayed and hardly gave themselves a chance to win.
“Nobody gives up in here,” said Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk, who set up the winner with a perfect backhand pass to Filppula, beating Antti Niemi on the stick side at 12:32 of the third.
While Niemi was heroic with a 42-save performance, he couldn’t win the game alone.
Detroit came back from being down 1-0 in the third when Henrik Zetterberg tied it up at 10:38 after Logan Couture opened the scoring at 3:54.
Darren Helm put it in an empty net.
“I just feel good we won,” said Filppula. “As long as we win, it doesn’t matter who scores. But I am always happy to help the team.”
Yup. He helped in a big way.
The Wings skated circles around the Sharks from the opening faceoff. The game really could have been embarrassing if it hadn’t been for Niemi. San Jose is suddenly facing an uphill battle.
“Nobody felt bad about being down (1-0). We weren’t about to hang our heads either,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who only faced 25 shots. “We just kept fighting, we stuck to our game plan. We kept getting pucks in and we were finally able to get a couple.
“This team has worked extremely hard here and nobody was feeling bad about being down 3-0 in the series. Even though we were down 3-0, there was still confidence around this team. We just looked around the room and went to work for each other.”
The Sharks are reeling after three straight losses. They aren’t sure what happens next. They have a horrible playoff history and it’s about to all be brought back to them in the next 24 hours. They didn’t mince words.
“You can’t take much out of this game other than (Niemi) was great. We put up an embarrassing effort,” said Sharks defenceman Doug Murray. “It’s nothing to do with X’s and O’s. It’s about whatever it takes to get yourself ready. We weren’t skating, we weren’t making quick plays, we weren’t doing anything right.
“This was unacceptable. But we have to move away from it. We’ve got an important game Thursday.”
The Wings know they’re on the verge of something special. The Flyers came back after going 0-3 last spring against the Bruins and won the series, so it’s not impossible.
“The pressure has been on this whole team. We’ve been taking the one-game at-a-time approach since we were down 3-0 and that’s going to be our same approach for Game 7,” said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
“We’ve just got to go out there and win one game. That’s it. That’s totally our approach. We can’t relax because every game has been so tight and so close. We’re not done yet. That’s going to be the same approach for Game 7.”