SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The longest-tenured member of the San Jose Sharks put his team in the Western Conference Finals on Saturday night.
Patrick Marleau, who made his NHL debut with this club just four months after being drafted back in 1997, broke a 1-1 tie at 6:59 of the third period as the Sharks eliminated the Detroit Red Wings with a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of this Western Conference Semifinal at HP Pavilion.
The Red Wings, who avoided a sweep with a 7-1 victory in Detroit on Thursday, failed in their bid to reach Round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth year in a row. They finished 5-7 this postseason.
The score was even at 1-1 when Joe Thornton, who scored San Jose's first goal, controlled the puck after Dany Heatley knocked it away from Nicklas Lidstrom. Thornton's passout found Marleau, who one-timed a 15-foot rocket from the slot past Jimmy Howard. It was Marleau's third goal of the playoffs.
San Jose came up huge in the final minute, as Dan Boyle was hit with a holding penalty with 51.5 seconds remaining. But the Red Wings failed to record a shot on goal and saw their season end.
The Sharks became the first team to move into the conference finals. They will host either Chicago or Vancouver when the next round begins. It's San Jose's second trip to the NHL's final four -- they lost to Calgary in 2004.
Much to the delight of the capacity crowd of 17,562, Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov bounced back in a big way with a 33-save performance. Nabokov was pulled after the first period in Game 4 after stopping only four of nine shots in a 7-1 loss.
Despite numerous chances on two power plays -- both penalties were on Game 4 hero Johan Franzen -- the Sharks failed to score during an opening period that saw them outshoot the Wings 10-1 after the first man advantage. Overall, San Jose outshot Detroit 15-6 in the first 20 minutes.
And after weathering another brief storm early in the second period, the Red Wings grabbed a 1-0 lead when Brian Rafalski scored his third goal of the playoffs at 2:40. With the teams at even strength, Franzen muscled the puck from the right boards to the point to Rafalski, who took advantage of a screen in front set up by Todd Bertuzzi as he fired a slap shot past Nabokov.
But the Sharks wouldn't be denied on their third power play of the night, as Thornton tied the game at 4:54 of the second. Just six seconds after Brad Stuart went off for elbowing, Jason Demers fired a wrister from the point that was denied by Howard. But Thornton picked up the rebound, toe-dragged the puck to get a better angle and lift it into the net for his third goal of the playoffs.
Just as Wings escaped the first period tied despite being outshot badly, the Sharks did the same in the second. They were outshot 14-3 but managed to head to the third with the score 1-1.
San Jose had a glorious opportunity less than four minutes into the third period when Joe Pavelski was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked from behind by Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. But Pavelski, who has been money this postseason, fired wide on the free breakaway as the game remained tied.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 SJS