DETROIT - The San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings both were missing big pieces to the puzzle Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
As they prepared for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal with the Sharks trying to eliminate the Wings to avoid a dramatic Game 7 Thursday at the HP Pavilion, the pre-game talk was about who wasn't playing.
Although the Wings were expected to be without winger Johan Franzen, who has been nursing an injured left ankle throughout the playoffs, the Sharks had a shocker when they disclosed Ryane Clowe didn't make the trip to Detroit.
He was left at home with an "upper body" injury. Coach Todd McLellan said the injury had nothing to do with a hit took from Detroit's Niklas Kronwall in Game 5 and that the Sharks are hopeful he'll be able to play "moving forward."
Clowe has been the club's best and most consistent player in these playoffs. He has four goals and nine assists in 11 games this spring. He has been playing with an edge and McLellan was forced to juggle his lines as a result of his absence.
"It puts a little more pressure on other players," McLellan said before the game. "We're taking the approach that the players actually involved in the game and that are dressed are more important than the ones that aren't.
"We have to make sure we show up and compete. Clowe is an important guy for our hockey club. Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski are all guys playing with injuries on their team, as well. So, it's not about the ones that are out of the lineup, it's about the ones that are in it."
McLellan didn't shed any light on the injury to Clowe, except to laugh off a suggestion that something may have happened off the ice.
"Unless his wife slashed him at home, it happened during the game," McLellan said, tongue in cheek.
This situation was no laughing matter for San Jose. By blowing a two-goal third-period lead in Game 5, the Sharks allowed the Wings to win their second in a row after San Jose had grabbed a 3-0 series lead. Detroit was in position to tie the series Tuesday night.
Without Clowe, the task of eliminating the Wings was only going to get more difficult.
"He brings a lot of emotion to the game and he's out of the locker room as well," Sharks centre Joe Pavelski said. "He's definitely a fun player to have in the lineup both on the ice and off the ice.
"You know his heart is in the right spot. With the playoffs (injuries) happen and you have to have guys step up. That's what we expect from each other."
Down the hall in the Detroit room, there was excitement about Mike Modano making his debut in the series in place of Franzen, who played only nine minutes 18 seconds Sunday and reinjured the ankle that has pretty much made him a non-factor.
Coach Mike Babcock called Modano Monday night after the Wings arrived home from San Jose to let him know he should prepare himself to play -- possibly the veteran's final NHL game before a rumoured retirement.
"I'm a tad excited to say the least," Modano said. "I'm just excited to get an opportunity. I just want to make the most of it. It was tough (Monday) night sleeping and knowing that I was playing.
"There was no mystery about it. I'm not coming here waiting and seeing until warmup. In some sense that's good, in some sense that's bad. You have a restless sleep, but you have time to think about what you want to do and what's expected of you."