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.
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. The Sharks had to kill off a power play, when Torrey Mitchell was called for slashing with 5:03 left, to preserve the lead. Niemi then made a stop on a tricky shot by Datsyuk in the final minute.
After a scramble in front of the net, Marleau got the final clear in the closing seconds, sending the fans into delirium and giving the Sharks their first sense of relief as the clock ran out.
The Red Wings fell behind 2-0 in the first period but that deficit surely wasn't daunting to a team that overcame a 3-0 hole in the series to force this Game 7. Detroit dominated the second period despite finishing it without three of its top forwards, with Johan Franzen missing the game with an ankle injury, Todd Bertuzzi getting knocked out in the first period with an upper body injury, and Danny Cleary getting helped to the locker room after appearing to hit his head on the ice after a collision with teammate Jiri Hudler.
The Red Wings outshot the Sharks 17-6 in the period but managed to get only one puck past Niemi, who made tough saves on Niklas Kronwall and Cleary in the first half of the period.
Zetterberg got Detroit on the board when he beat Niemi with a backhand at the end of a three-on-two rush with 6:50 left in the second. The Red Wings kept the pressure up the rest of the way as the Sharks looked desperate for the period to end, icing the puck five times.
Detroit got the final 10 shots in the period as the Sharks couldn't manage even to get one after Setoguchi's attempt with 7:48 to go. But Niemi was able to preserve the lead heading into the third, robbing Zetterberg with his glove late in the period.
The crowd was frenzied at the start for what was being billed by many as the biggest game ever at the Shark Tank, cheering "Beat De-troit! Beat De-troit!" That energy from the fans was matched by the Sharks, who were thoroughly outplayed in their Game 6 loss in Detroit two nights earlier.
After a couple of big early saves by Howard, the Sharks broke through with their first power-play goal since Game 3. Joe Thornton threaded a perfect pass from behind the net to Setoguchi, who beat Howard with a one-timer for his fifth goal of the series.
San Jose then killed off a pair of Detroit power plays, getting the best chance when Thornton set up Dany Heatley on a two-on-one that Howard stopped with his blocker.
The Sharks got the second goal in the final minute when Couture stole an outlet pass from Zetterberg, and in the same motion beat Howard with a wrist shot from the faceoff circle with 59 seconds left in the period.
Notes: San Jose F Ryane Clowe returned to the lineup after missing Game 6 with an upper body injury. ... Kris Draper replaced Franzen in the lineup. Draper scored a goal in the only previous Game 7 between these teams, a game the Sharks won 3-2 in 1994.