With the success the Detroit Red Wings have had over the years, the San Jose Sharks view every game against their rivals as a measuring stick.
The Sharks measured up as well against the Red Wings as they have just about everyone else in the NHL these past seven weeks, beating them for the third time in four meetings this season Thursday night.
Dany Heatley scored twice and Antti Niemi made 26 saves to lead San Jose to its eighth straight victory, 3-1.
”It’s fun to play them,” Heatley said. ”We really respect them. Tonight you could feel it in the crowd. The fans were really into it. It’s getting to that point at the end of the year coming toward the playoffs. You can feel the fans get excited. Against a team like Detroit, we notice it for sure.”
The win was the 17th in the past 20 games for the Sharks, who have moved from outside the playoff picture in mid-January to third place in the Western Conference, just three points behind second-place Detroit.
Tomas Holmstrom scored a power-play goal for the Red Wings, who have lost on back-to-back nights after winning their previous six road games.
Joey MacDonald made 25 saves, including a tough stop on Devin Setoguchi early in the third and another on a deflection by Jamal Mayers later in the period that kept Detroit in the game.
But the Red Wings were unable to generate any strong scoring chances in the third before the Sharks put it away with a fluky goal. Patrick Marleau was chasing after a dump-in when MacDonald came out of his net to try to clear the puck. But MacDonald hit the puck off Marleau’s stick and it deflected off a defenseman and into the Detroit net for Marleau’s 25th goal of the season.
”One of those bounces,” MacDonald said. ”It was one of those nights, a lot of bounces. Hey, we were in it right to the end. It was a 2-1 game.”
Heatley scored his first goal early in the first period as the Sharks jumped out early on Detroit. He added another on the power play in the second when he redirected a centering pass from Joe Pavelski past MacDonald to give San Jose a 2-1 lead with Holmstrom in the box for hooking. Heatley, who had scored just one goal in his previous 12 games, just missed a hat trick when he shot wide at an empty net with just over a minute left.
”I would have loved to have seen him score the third one but he got the two that counted,” Coach Todd McLellan said. ”I’m sure that will help his confidence and he’ll feel better about his game.”
Heatley also contributed defensively, breaking up a 2-on-1 short-handed scoring chance in the first period with a strong backcheck. That’s just the kind of two-way play from the forwards that has been so important during this recent stretch.
The Sharks got off to a fast start against a Red Wings team that lost in overtime in Anaheim the previous night. They had a 12-1 shots advantage midway through the first and led 1-0 when Heatley tipped a shot by Ian White past MacDonald.
That was a marked turnaround from past games between these teams when it was the Red Wings who had the edge early.
”We wanted to get a quick start knowing they played in Anaheim last night,” captain Joe Thornton said. ”They’re a good team, we’re a good team. These are always good games. It really doesn’t matter who we play against right now, we have to get wins.”
After going 1 for 9 on the power play Wednesday and failing to convert their first chance this game, the Red Wings finally broke through on the man advantage late in the first after Justin Braun was called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. Detroit had one goal waved off because Johan Franzen made contact with Niemi, but Holmstrom broke through when he tipped Mike Modano’s shot past Niemi for the equalizer.
”The bottom line is we have to skate better than we did tonight as a group,” Coach Mike Babcock said. ”Our big guys in particular have to skate better, but they played hard minutes last night. But the bottom line is we think we can skate better as a team and we can spend more time in the offensive zone. But I wasn’t disappointed in our effort tonight.”
NOTES: Niemi has started 20 straight games. … Detroit’s Johan Franzen has not scored in 14 straight games since a five-goal performance against Ottawa on Feb. 2. … Both teams were without star defensemen, with Dan Boyle missing his third straight game for San Jose with an upper-body injury and Brian Rafalski sitting a fourth straight game for Detroit with back spasms. … The Red Wings spent Wednesday night in Anaheim after a 2-1 OT win over the Ducks because of the curfew at San Jose airport. They arrived in town Thursday morning.