DETROIT – One more win and the San Jose Sharks finally can put to rest their reputation as a talented team that can't win the big one, that too often underachieves in the playoffs following a stellar regular season.
Showing more resiliency and mental toughness than perhaps they are given credit for, the Sharks on Tuesday night staged a third-period rally before defeating the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in overtime to quiet a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena and grab a 3-0 stranglehold on their Western Conference Semifinal series.
Joe Thornton fed Patrick Marleau on a 2-on-1 rush for a tap-in at 7:07 of the extra period to cap the Sharks' comeback from a 3-1 deficit.
The Sharks can clinch the series and advance to the conference finals by winning Game 4 here on Thursday.
Not that they're counting out the Wings.
"We still have to get that fourth one, so there's still a lot of work to be done," said Marleau, who skated down the left side as goalie Jimmy Howard came out a bit to challenge with Brian Rafalski the lone defender back. Marleau redirected Thornton's pass into a half-open net.
The Sharks caught a bit of a break on the decisive goal.
Detroit's Jason Williams fired a shot that wound up careening around the boards just as Thornton, Marleau and Dany Heatley hopped onto the ice on a line change. Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson got caught in deep on the play along with all three forwards as Thornton corralled the puck and raced into the Detroit end.
"We just came off the bench," Thornton said. "They missed the net and ... transition hockey. I put a lot of steam on that pass. There are probably only a couple guys in this locker room who could handle that. It was a great play by Patty."
Asked if he had considered taking the shot instead, Thornton said: "It was an easy decision to make. I just made a pass to him and he made a great play."
Marleau gave the credit to Thornton, saying: "Basically Joe used me as a backboard to put it into an empty net."
Outplayed for the better part of two periods, the Sharks tied the game 3-3 with third-period goals by Thornton and rookie Logan Couture.
Thornton, who has 2 goals and 3 assists in the series, cut the Red Wings' lead to 3-2 at 6:42 when he circled from behind the net and fired a shot through a screen that ticked off Pavel Datsyuk's stick and went past Howard.
"Patty was hounding me," Thornton said. " 'Take it to the net, take it to the net.' I took it to the net and shot it, a seeing-eye shot, and it went in."
Couture, while he was below the right circle, stunned Howard with a shot that found its way into the net with 6:43 remaining.
The Red Wings managed to kill off a Tomas Holmstrom offensive-zone penalty for interference at 17:04 left to get to overtime. They'll need to do a lot more than that now to stave off elimination.
"The reality is we've dug a huge hole for us here," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
The Red Wings haven't been swept in a series since 2003, when they lost four in a row to the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.
"You win the next one, that's all you can do," Rafalski said. "Can't focus on anything beyond that."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he would remind his players on Wednesday how difficult he believes it will be to eliminate his former team.
"I've been in that other locker room and I know how much fight is in that team," said McLellan, who was an assistant under Babcock for three seasons and owns a ring from the 2008 Stanley Cup winners. "Our task is going to be tougher for the fourth win than it has been for the first three."
The Red Wings, already up 2-1, seemed to be in good shape when Henrik Zetterberg, who was thwarted by Nabokov on a first-period penalty shot, scored to give his team a 3-1 lead at 1:42 of the second period. He fired the puck from the left corner and it went in off Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray.
The Red Wings took a 2-0 lead in a first period in which two apparent goals were reviewed when pucks went into the net off skates; one was disallowed, the other allowed to stand.
Holmstrom opened the scoring at 13:33 when a puck shot by Johan Franzen hit his right skate and skidded into the net. The goal was allowed to stand after a review.
That play came less than four minutes after a review washed out an apparent Zetterberg goal. He was outside the crease on the left side when it was ruled that he used his left skate to direct Valtteri Filppula's pass into the net.
Zetterberg denied using a kicking motion.
"No," he said. "My skate did not leave the ice. I did not have a kicking motion. It was a battle with their D, and I just tried to stop to be in position to play with the stick, but he kind of pushed me and of course you're a little off-balance, so it's tough to be completely still with the skates."
The Red Wings were awarded their penalty shot at 16:28 when San Jose's Logan Couture was cited for covering the puck in the crease with his glove following a wraparound attempt by Todd Bertuzzi.
Zetterberg took the shot and tried to beat Nabokov with a high backhander, but the goalie speared the puck with his glove.
There was no controversy when Dan Cleary put Detroit ahead 2-0 at 18:37. Cleary was in the left circle when he whipped the puck inside the near post.
Devin Setoguchi got the Sharks on the board as time was winding down. Joe Pavelski sent the puck across to Setoguchi, who slipped it under Howard's left pad with 1.2 seconds left before the horn.
BEST SHIFT: After a faceoff deep in the Red Wings end, center Joe Thornton made a nifty individual play to slice the Sharks’ deficit to 3-2 at 6:42 of the third period. Thornton corralled the puck on the left side, skated behind the net, circled in front and scored on a wrist shot while using teammate Patrick Marleau as a screen.
1 - 0 DET
2 - 0 DET
2 - 1 DET