Commentary

Avoiding a sweep, or something more?

Updated: May 7, 2010, 12:39 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Too stubborn to roll over, "The Mule" made sure the Detroit Red Wings lived to see another day. What they need is six more days.

Johan Franzen was a one-man wrecking crew Thursday night, producing three goals and one assist within a 5:36 span in the first period, and by 8 p.m. ET we already knew there'd be a Game 5 at HP Pavilion on Saturday night.

The question now is whether the 7-1 rout of the San Jose Sharks, with Franzen tallying a franchise playoff record six points (4-2) in total, was simply the work of a glory-filled team having too much pride to go out in a four-game sweep or the start of something intriguing.

"You especially don't want to get swept," said Franzen. "You want to show your fans that you don't want the season to end. You want to put up a good game for them, as well. ... We came out flying tonight. That's a good sign because we have to keep winning here."

We all know the odds. The Wings are the 160th team in NHL history to be down 3-0 in a playoff series. Only two teams have come back to win. But given the manner in which the Winged Wheel harpooned the Sharks on Thursday night, you wonder whether San Jose simply chalks this up as an ugly loss or does it creep into its confidence?

"Maybe this spanking that we got tonight will wake us up a little bit and make us aware that we're in a hell of a series and we're not out of the woods by any means," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan.

Let's put it this way, the Sharks would not enjoy coming back here to Joe Louis Arena for a sixth game. That's when it begins to get way too tight around the neck area. You also have to consider the fact that while the Sharks were up 3-0, it wasn't a one-sided series on the ice. Games 2 and 3 could have gone either way, which is what you'd expect from two powerhouse clubs. The Sharks themselves repeatedly mentioned Wednesday and Thursday morning that while they were up 3-0, they felt they were playing in a real tight series in terms of the hockey played on the ice.

"It's been a tight series in our mind, but they were still up 3-0," Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday night. "We closed the gap here a little bit, but we've got a long time to go."

The on-ice competition was not close at all Thursday night. The Sharks looked stationary as the Wings pounced on every loose puck. Detroit was also very efficient, listed with eight scoring chances and five goals in the opening 20 minutes.

"We're all very disappointed and I haven't used that word in a good month around this hockey club," said McLellan. "We're disappointed, not so much in the fact we lost, but the fact we weren't prepared when we knew what was coming. We said all the right things, but didn't go out and respond to it. And we got away from our game. We've got some work to do."

There's no truth to the rumor Evgeni Nabokov confused the red Detroit sweaters with Team Canada. This time, he was pulled after five goals (not after six like he was at the Olympics) and we'll cut him some slack because he got absolutely no support from a Sharks team that couldn't check a fly in the first period. Know this: Nabokov also gave up five goals in a 6-5 overtime win in Game 2 against Colorado before rebounding nicely by allowing only four goals over the final four games of the first round.

Never mind how Nabokov responds, he'll be fine; it's the Sharks' team performance that will be key Saturday night. Before Thursday, their last loss was Game 3 against Colorado, where Dan Boyle scored an own goal in overtime and the Sharks responded with impressive resolve, posting six straight wins and playing their best playoff hockey in years. McLellan talked about that Boyle own goal as one of those moments good playoff teams have to get over in their journey. Now, he's got his second bump of adversity, his team needing to rebound from an ugly, ugly loss.

"Every game is a new challenge, we didn't figure it out tonight," said Joe Pavelski. "We have to take what we can, learn from it. It's definitely a learning experience for this group, a little adversity, and we have to respond now. We're going to be excited to get back to our crowd, our rink, and we've had success there. A good start will go a long way for us."

These aren't your Sharks of yesteryear. These guys have more mettle. We don't see them reeling from this loss. But the team they're trying to put out to pasture is going to make it mighty hard. Future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom had another outstanding game Thursday, signaling that he's in no hurry to end this thing. When he leads, the other Detroiters follow.

"Well, we didn't want to lose here, I'll tell you that right now," said winger Todd Bertuzzi, who was dynamite on Franzen's line with five points (1-4) of his own. "I think with who we have in the dressing room and their leadership, you lean on these guys like Nick, Drapers [Kris Draper] and Raffi [Brian Rafalski]. They push you to be better. When you have that kind of leadership in the room, you go out and give it everything you got."

And the Red Wings are 2-0 this postseason when facing elimination, outscoring the opposition 13-2 in the process, including a Game 7 mauling of the Coyotes. After that game, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett was asked about the Red Wings storming out of the gates and he said it was more like a hurricane.

"We saw that hurricane tonight," said McLellan.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.