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Leave it to Detroit Red Wings' coach Mike Babcock to get right to the heart of the matter.

In discussing Tuesday night's critical 4-3 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks, which left the Red Wings down 3-0 and needing a one-for-the-history books comeback to win the series, Babcock said of Jimmy Howard, his rookie netminder: "Goalies pick you up lots of times. Sometimes you've got to pick him up and we didn't do that for him tonight."

No, they didn't. Even as the Sharks pressed to overcome a two-goal deficit, the Red Wings might have been all right had Howard not allowed that quirky goal from Logan Couture from the right corner, which knotted the score, forced OT, and eventually permitted the Sharks to pull out the victory on Patrick Marleau's second goal of the playoffs.

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Howard had no chance on the winner. Even though everybody in the building had to know that Joe Thornton, the puck carrier, was going to try to thread a pass through to Marleau on the two-on-one, Howard had to respect the possibility of a shot - Thornton had scored on him earlier in the third - leaving to defenceman Brian Rafalski to take away the pass option. Rafalski couldn't; just a further illustration of why Thornton perennially runs one-two every year in NHL assists. Say what you want about Jumbo, there are few better at threading the needle than the St. Thomas, Ont. product, who is slowly but surely shedding himself of that "No Show Joe" reputation that has dogged him for years.

Sharks' defenceman Rob Blake said something interesting about Thornton the other day, when the matter of the latter's scoring struggles came up. Blake, an ultra-experienced defenceman getting on in years, is tuned to the subtleties of the game more than some. According to Blake, Thornton doesn't get enough notice for the things he does, even when he's not scoring.

"Joe, he's played hard for us. He competes. He wants to win. When you play with him, you understand that a lot more. He's a big guy and if he's not scoring, he's wearing other guys down. He's tough to check."

The Red Wings learned that on Thornton's third-period goal, which keyed the comeback and gave the Sharks hope. He took a path from behind the net to the front of the net and nobody did a thing to stop him.

Sharks-Bruins is at least on the radar screen now as a possible Stanley Cup final, given Boston's lead in its series against the Philadelphia Flyers and wouldn't that be a dramatic conclusion - Thornton, the ex-Bruin, trying to prove that Thomas Wolfe was wrong. Maybe you can go home again after all.



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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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