SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrick Marleau got his first point of the series when he knocked home a rebound with 7:47 to play and the San Jose Sharks finally managed to knock out the Detroit Red Wings on their fourth try with a 3-2 victory last night in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture scored in the first period and Antti Niemi made 38 saves for the Sharks, who had lost three straight potential clinching games before eliminating the Red Wings for the second straight year in the second round.
San Jose avoided becoming the fourth NHL team to lose a series after winning the first three games. A franchise known for its playoff flops avoided a colossal one and now heads into its second straight Western Conference final. That series begins Sunday in Vancouver.
“There’s a lot of doubters who said we probably couldn’t do this,’’ said Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who had six assists in the series. “But that’s two years in a row we beat a pretty good team. We’re a pretty good team now, too.’’
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Red Wings, who fought valiantly to the end but were unable to complete their bid for an historic feat. Detroit furiously pushed for the tying goal in the frantic final minutes, but couldn’t beat Niemi again — even after getting a late power-play chance.
The much-maligned Marleau, who was called “gutless’’ by former teammate Jeremy Roenick after Game 5, gave the Sharks the breathing room they had been desperately seeking when he poked a rebound of Setoguchi’s shot into an empty net behind Jimmy Howard to give San Jose a 3-1 lead.
But as tough as it was to eliminate the Red Wings in the series, it was just that hard to close out this game.
Datsyuk beat Niemi with a great individual effort to make it a one-goal game with 6:01 remaining, then the Sharks had to kill off a power play with 5:03 left to preserve the lead.