Marleau nets winner as Sharks move to conference finals

San Jose Sharks

– Patrick Marleau was ready to shoot. Ready to bury Joe
Thornton’s set-up pass from the endboards and drill a low shot
under the glove of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.
SAN JOSE – Patrick Marleau was ready to shoot. Ready to bury Joe Thornton’s set-up pass from the endboards and drill a low shot under the glove of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.

With just over 13 minutes to play in the fifth game of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Marleau was up to the challenge, one-timing the shot from the slot into the net to carry the San Jose Sharks past Detroit 2-1 and finish off the series in five games Saturday at sold-out HP Pavilion.

By winning two consecutive best 4-of-7 series, San Jose returns to the Western Conference finals for the second time in franchise history. The Sharks fell in six games to Calgary in the spring of 2004.

“Patty doesn’t miss those,” Thornton said of Marleau’s deciding goal at 6:59 of the third period.

San Jose began the winning play with an offensive zone face-off. Thornton lost the face-off but the puck went back to the endboards and a streaking Dany Heatley knocked the puck away from Red Wing Brian Rafalski and to his centerman.

“I saw Dany forechecking hard, creating a lot of havoc. I saw (Patty) out of the corner of my eye right away. It was an easy play for me,” Thornton said.

Evgeni Nabokov made 33 saves to anchor the San Jose defense.

“Nabby played great,” said Thornton. “We’ll go as far as Nabby takes us.”

After an uneven second period that found San Jose out-shot 14-3, the Sharks responded with 14 shots on net in the final period.

“After that second period, we got back to skating and putting pucks behind their net,” said San Jose captain Rob Blake.

The Sharks had an opportunity to snap the 1-1 tie 3:12 into the third period when Joe Pavelski was interfered with going in on a breakaway and was given a penalty shot. Pavelski, the top goal-scorer in the playoffs entering the game, missed high on his penalty shot attempt.

The scoreless first period produced several scoring chances for both teams, although San Jose produced a 15-6 edge in shots on net.

Thornton’s backhander from the low slot skimmed off the right post and to the sideboards 11:11 into the first period. Blake moved to the right post 14 minutes into the period and redirected a centering pass from Devin Setoguchi high over the net.

San Jose put three shots on net in the period’s only full power play.

Detroit scored an even-strength goal 2:40 into the second period. Johan Franzen pulled the puck back to defenseman Rafalski in the high slot. Rafalski’s hard shot found the inside edge of the right post to earn the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.

San Jose needed only seven seconds of power play time to respond with a tying goal at the 4:54 mark of the second period. After Detroit’s Brad Stuart was whistled for elbowing Pavelski at 4:47, the Sharks won the offensive-zone face-off and Pavelski shot from the blueline. Heatley controlled the short rebound and tapped the puck to Thornton for the goal from the right edge of the crease.

“Right now it is a bitter pill to swallow in a lot of ways and no one likes losing,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock.

“You come here to win, and think you are going to win. I thought when we got through the first period, we would win for sure.”

Detroit was in the Stanley Cup finals the past two years, among the final four teams the year before that.

“We had an unbelievable push just to get into the playoffs,” added Babcock. “We had a real good year from where we were at the Olympic break.”

The Sharks will host either Chicago or Vancouver in the conference finals later this week.

“This is a very, very big win for our organization for a lot of different reasons,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “By no means is our task done.”

“Play our game, execute and good things will happen,” said Marleau, the owner of the series-winning goal, explained about the upcoming challenge.