When the Detroit Red Wings beat the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs, they were simply doing what came naturally. But since then they have found a team at its best game in and game out, and should expect the same on Thursday, Feb. 28 when they invade HP Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. PST.
Detroit has been playing well, but is coming off a loss Wednesday night in Los Angeles when the Stanley Cup champions Kings scored two goals in the third period. Their season remains a disappointment because they are out of the current Western Conference playoff picture.
The Sharks are higher in the standings because of their fast start, but their struggles in February have been more pronounced than Detroit's. On the other hand, they are coming off a win and only had a practice Wednesday, not a game and travel like their foe.
Ryane Clowe will be back and might come with a fresh approach off the two-game suspension from the NHL related to sticking up for Joe Pavelski at the end of Friday's game. He practiced with Andrew Desjardins and Michal Handzus on the third line, but otherwise the lineup should be the same as Tuesday night. Coach Todd McLellan used the term doubtful for Tommy Wingels and Brent Burns is on injured reserve.
Detroit played Jimmy Howard in Los Angeles, so he will either be fatigued or taking the night off. They are without forwards Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson as well as Carlo Colaiacovo on the blue line. They also had key players retire or move on last season.
That leaves San Jose as healthier and with a debatable intangible edge. Their statistical advantage in 2013 is much more pronounced. They have the edge in the NHL standings because they also have it in power play, penalty kill, hits, blocks, takeaways and both shot and goal differential. Detroit's lone advantages are with giveaways and faceoffs.
Look for the Sharks to break out against backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson for four goals and for Antti Niemi to be solid enough to hold a potent offense to two scores.