SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Defensemen Ian White and Niclas Wallin scored their first goals of the postseason and Antti Niemi made 33 saves to help the San Jose Sharks take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series over the Detroit Red Wings with a 2-1 victory Sunday.
White scored on a power play in the first period and Wallin extended the lead early in the third period as the Sharks put together two of their best back-to-back games to jump on top of the Red Wings for the second straight year.
While Detroit could blame a lack of rest for falling into a 3-0 hole to San Jose a year ago following a seven-game first-round series, the Red Wings were well-rested this year after sweeping Phoenix. But that made no difference against a determined Sharks team that has won 10 of 12 games against Detroit.
Jimmy Howard was again strong in goal for the Red Wings, making 35 saves, but he got little help from his teammates. The Red Wings hope to change their fortunes when the series shifts to Detroit for Games 3 and 4 starting Wednesday night.
The Sharks controlled play in the second period and took control of the scoreboard with the rare goal from Wallin early in the third. He skated into the offensive zone and fired a shot that hit off Howard’s shoulder and helmet, popped in the air and fell into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Detroit’s frustration quickly materialized as Tomas Holmstrom took a roughing penalty on Jason Demers to negate a power play, and Niemi kept coming up with the big saves. His best moment came when he stopped Nicklas Lidstrom from the point and then Danny Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg on rebounds midway through the third.
The Red Wings finally broke through with a power-play goal by Zetterberg with 6:02 remaining. They couldn’t get the equalizer, with the best chance coming when Lidstrom hit the post late in the period.
Both goalies came up big in a second period that featured plenty of hard hits, scoring chances and animosity that boiled over when San Jose’s Ben Eager and Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi fell into the Red Wings bench during a scrum. The two nearly went at it again after serving coincidental roughing penalties, but Bertuzzi didn’t respond when Eager dropped his gloves and was given a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Niemi stopped a short-handed breakaway by Darren Helm early in the period and made two nice stops against Zetterberg on a Detroit power play shortly after that. Niemi also had a tough stop on Zetterberg in the final minute, playing more like the goalie who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup last season than the one who got pulled twice in the first round against Los Angeles this year.
Howard was even better in the second and needed to be as the Sharks controlled the play for much of the period, winning two thirds of the faceoffs and outshooting Detroit 19-9.
Howard robbed Devin Setoguchi and Dan Boyle midway through the period and made a diving stop on Patrick Marleau at the end of a power play. Even when a puck managed to slip by Howard, the Sharks couldn’t score as forward Pavel Datsyuk cleared a loose puck from the goal line after a great effort by Douglas Murray almost led to a goal.
Howard made five more saves during a flurry in the opening minute of the third, stopping Marleau on an odd-man rush and Boyle on a rebound attempt.
The sellout crowd was loud from the start and got more frenzied when the Sharks broke out to a rare early lead this postseason when White beat Howard with a blast through a screen on a power play with Justin Abdelkader in the box for high-sticking.
That was San Jose’s first goal in the first period since Dany Heatley scored on the opening shift of the first round against Los Angeles.
Notes: The Red Wings have lost six of their last seven series when falling behind 2-0, with the only win coming in the first round against Vancouver in 2002. … San Jose had allowed nine straight first-period goals before White’s tally.