Time: 9 p.m. ET
Road to Game 7
Once a rarity, Detroit's comeback from an 0-3 hole isn't that shocking anymore. The Red Wings are the third team --- joining last year's Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks, who did it a round prior this postseason --- to accomplish the feat over the last two seasons and eighth team overall. (Philly advanced over the Bruins, while the Canucks righted the ship in time to beat the 'Hawks.) Take away a Darren Helm empty-net goal in Game 6 and each game in the series has been decided by one goal with two games going to OT. The clubs have been tied or separated by a single goal 90 percent of the time, according to the NHL.
The Sharks coughed up third-period leads in each of the last two games, although Game 5's two-goal margin hurts the most. Rookie Logan Couture gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead in the opening minute of the third period on Sunday, but the Wings were able to tie the game within five minutes off goals by Jonathan Ericsson and Dan Cleary. Their one-goal lead secured on another Couture goal early in third period of Game 6 was more of a product of the play of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who turned away the first 38 shots he faced.
It's no doubt that Detroit's veteran cast -- minus ailing Johan Franzen -- has gotten stronger as the series has moved on. Take Pavel Datsyuk, whose undisclosed injury (likely hand) hasn't seemed to bother him much as he set up the game-winners in Games 5 and 6. He still may not being taking many faceoffs -- he didn't go into the circle in Game 5 and only took four draws in Game 6 -- but he's showing exactly why he's considered by many the best two-way forward in the league. He has a goal and seven assists in the series.
The Sharks were minus their top scorer in the playoffs, Ryane Clowe, in Game 6 and he wasn't on the ice for practice on Wednesday. (The team is calling it an upper-body injury.) Clowe is the sort of hard-nosed player that can battle with the likes of Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom and Datsyuk, so his absence would be a major blow to the Sharks. But the sky won't be falling at the Shark Tank on Thursday if one of the veterans, say, Patrick Marleau, shows up. Yes, he's still looking for his first point of the series, but San Jose does have a few other options: Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle. As clutch as Joe Pavelski -- who scored the game-winner in the Sharks' last Game 7 against Calgary three years ago -- has been in the playoffs, one of the team's Stars will need to step it up -- even if Clowe is a go.
Jimmy Howard (Detroit) vs. Antti Niemi (San Jose). Howard allowed one goal against the Coyotes in a first-round Game 7 victory a year ago, a contest the Wings won 6-1. His 39-save effort in Game 5 pushed the series to a sixth game, where he allowed one goal -- which went over the line by maybe an inch or two -- on 25 shots. Niemi's tremendous 42-save effort went for naught in Game 6, but he's proven a much more reliable goalie than in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. This will be the first time Niemi has faced an elimination game in his NHL career (the Blackhawks never were in danger of elimination in their Stanley Cup run a year ago with Niemi in net).
Franzen (ankle) is questionable for Game 7, although Detroit coach Mike Babcock told reporters on Wednesday he wouldn't rule him out just yet. Veteran Mike Modano started in Franzen's place in Game 6 and although he went without a point, he did win six of his nine faceoffs. Goalie Chris Osgood (hernia) is out. Clowe will be a game-time decision, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after practice on Wednesday.
A.J. Perez: I called Sharks in 6 and I'm going to stick with San Jose. No, it doesn't have momentum -- not by a long shot -- but that can be overcome with an early goal or two. I'd like its chances a lot better if Clowe breaks the lineup, but there is still plenty left to get the deal done -- especially on home ice. For some reason, I'm thinking this could be the highest scoring game of the series.
Brian Stubits: The natural inclination is to pick the team with the home ice in a Game 7, but things just seem to be tilting Detroit's way for me. Intangibles, as little as they often mean, mostly belong to the Wings, an experienced group. I just can't get over the Sharks stigma of playoff problems, this series going seven doesn't alleviate that. With the game almost being a toss-up, I've got the team riding high, and that's Detroit.