Niemi proves his worth

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi makes a save on Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg during Game 6 of...

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi makes a save on Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal series in Detroit, Mich., May 10, 2011. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters)

STEVE MacFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:40 PM ET

If anyone still believes the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season in spite of goaltender Antti Niemi, they might want to re-think that theory.

Niemi was easily the San Jose Sharks' best player Tuesday night at The Joe, keeping the suddenly toothless ones in the game despite being dominated through 40 minutes and actually watching his side take a short-lived lead in the third period.

But it can be said the Detroit Red Wings — who avoided elimination with a massive 3-1 victory to force Game 7 back in San Jose — are winning in spite of netminder Jimmy Howard.

Howard's weak five-hole goal gift to Logan Couture in the third period should have been the death of the Wings, who stormed back from a 3-0 series deficit thanks mostly to superstar Pavel Datsyuk playing his ass off with one good wrist.

Niemi hasn't lost a playoff series yet, going 5-0 with the Hawks and Sharks so far, but that's definitely in jeopardy now.

Stops and starts

Todd Bertuzzi is lucky he hasn't been taken down by a Navy Seals sniper this spring. The Red Wings forward can definitely grow a beard. He looked like a member of Osama bin Laden's crew walking into Joe Louis Arena Tuesday night ... Mike Modano gets back into the lineup and ends up on a line with Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. Not easy for a 40-year-old who has played in just one playoff game. "A little winded," Modano admitted to TSN after the first 20 minutes. "It's a revved up game. Moving at a pretty good pace." ... Jiri Hudler also got back into the Red Wings active roster with veteran Kris Draper sitting out. Guess head coach Mike Babcock didn't want two old guys in at the same time with Modano drawing in for the hobbled Johan Franzen ... Patrick Marleau has taken a beating from the press lately and is definitely struggling, but the fact he agreed to do the second-intermission interview with TSN shows what a class act he is. Wonder if Jeremy Roenick had the guts to step into the Sharks dressing room after the morning skate? ... Get those Pavel Datsick T-shirts on SportsChirps.com while they're hot. The Russian Magician continues to mystify with his unbelievable skill.

Bench warmers

The Red Wings are known for making great late-draft selections, and Pavel Datsyuk (Sixth round, 171st overall in 1998) is often mentioned among that group. But the real diamond-in-the-rough was Tomas Holmstrom. The scrappy Swede taken in the 10th round, 257th overall in '94 has scored more NHL goals (232) than any other player taken lower than 250th in the draft ... Pre-game highlight of the night: Anthem singer Karen Newman's belt buckle. More bling than a Stanley Cup ring ... TSN's James Duthie on burly Sharks defenceman Douglas Murray: "Douglas Murray frightens me. He would terrify me if I was on the ice in a hockey game." Considering Duthie looks like he weighs about 120 pounds soaking wet, Theo Fleury might have terrified him on the ice, too. And the camera is supposed to add a few pounds ... Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle had his work cut out for him checking Darren Helm at full speed, but the veteran stayed with him and made a perfectly timed stick check to prevent a sure goal on the fast break ... Not sure what's more impressive, the fact Wings star Pavel Datsyuk nearly got his head on the puck during play or the fact he actually did it on purpose.

Dump and chase

Todd McLellan has been pretty secretive about winger Ryane Clowe's upper-body injury, but the Sharks coach had a great line Tuesday when asked when it happened: "Unless his wife slashed him at home, it happened during the game." ... Maybe the boo-boo didn't happen during that huge hit thrown by Niklas Kronwall, but Clowe could have been bruised on the landing considering how far he dropped. Serious turbulence ... Sharks rookie Logan Couture is having a little trouble getting that playoff beard to fill in, so maybe he's compensating with his hair. He's starting to look like Napoleon Dynamite ... At least five Flyers need surgery, with Mike Richards (wrist), Andrej Meszaros (wrist), Kris Versteeg (hernia), Michael Leighton (hip) and Blair Betts (finger) all tabbed to go under the knife. A few more are still being assessed. It says a lot about how well they did with so many guys playing hurt — and the fact their two 'starting' goalies weren't on that list. At least Leighton has an excuse ... It's been nearly a week since Eastern Conference finalists Tampa Bay and Boston swept their series. Wonder if any of them were allowed a little vacation?

Sweet tweets

"That Datsyuk would be a better player if he had two good wrists"

— CBC's Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC)

"Maybe @Jeremy_Roenick IS an expert on Marleau's playoff work. In 17 NHL post-seasons, Roenick had 2 or less goals 10 times."

— Sportsnet's Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec)

"So what am I supposed to do now for 4 months?"

— Nashville Predators' Colin Wilson (@ColinW33)

"Tim Panaccio thinks I'm moody and withdrawn with him. Maybe because he writes articles that are no where close to being true"

— Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards (@MRichie18)

"Could refs stop saying “We've got a good goal?” Either it's a goal or not. Because that was a bad goal. #SJSDet #nhlplayoffs"

— QMI Agency's Chris Stevenson (CJ_Stevenson) after a softie stood up following review

"For you Jets fans. Remember when you lost your team? Felt like s--- right? Im loyal 2 the team/organization that gave this plug his chance.

If we move i will carry that same loyalty right back across the border and embrace Winnipeg. Sincerely, your favorite 4th line duster."

— Phoenix Coyotes' Paul Bissonnette (BizNasty2point0)

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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