SAN JOSE, Calif. - For all the blame Patrick Marleau has shouldered for past postseason failures by San Jose, it was only fitting that his winning goal helped the Sharks avoid their biggest collapse yet.
Marleau got his first point of the series when he knocked home a rebound with 7:47 to play and then made the key defensive play in the closing seconds as the Sharks managed to knock out the Detroit Red Wings on their fourth try with a 3-2 victory Thursday night in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
"For him to end up with the winning goal was pretty special for our team and for him," coach Todd McLellan said. "I think the monkey may be off his back for the next series. ... He was a difference maker tonight."
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.
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"There's a lot of doubters who said we probably couldn't do this," captain Joe Thornton said. "But that's two years in a row we beat a pretty good team. We're a pretty good team now, too."
The Sharks get two days off before beginning the conference final Sunday in Vancouver against the Canucks, who also won a Game 7 after blowing a 3-0 lead in the first round against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
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 41-year-old defenseman, who has won four Stanley Cup titles with Detroit, must decide if he wants to come back for a 20th NHL season.
"I'm going to take my time before making a decision," Lidstrom said. "We'll have our meetings and go from there. I'm going to take the whole year into account. I'll take about as much time as last year. I'll meet with the coaching staff. It's been tough the last couple of years."
The much-maligned Marleau, who was called "gutless" by former teammate Jeremy Roenick after Game 5, gave the Sharks the breathing room 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 broke up a scoring chance for Patrick Eaves and then got the final clear, sending the fans into delirium and giving the Sharks their first sense of relief as the clock ran out.
"It was just nice to have it over and have us on top," Marleau said. "They played great the whole way through. It was just nice to be able to shake hands and come back in here."
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Patrick Marleau interview
May 13, 2011: The Sharks' Patrick Marleau spoke with Versus' Pierre McGuire following the Game 7 victory in which he scored the game-winning goal.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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