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Mule carries load as Wings hammer Sharks

By Steve Keating

DETROIT (Reuters) - Johan Franzen scored four goals, including a first period hat-trick, as the Detroit Red Wings staved off playoff elimination by thrashing the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday.

Trailing the Western conference semi-final 3-0, the desperate Red Wings scored five goals in the first-period on just nine shots to send the best-of-seven series back to San Jose for Game Five on Saturday.

"The bottom line is the guys were ready to play," Wings coach Mike Babcock told reporters. "We lived to play another day which this was all about.

"Now we have to get prepared for our next game and see if we can't put some pressure back on San Jose."

If the Wings are to reach the West finals for a fourth straight year much work still lies ahead as only two teams have clawed their way back from 3-0 deficits.

The last occurred 33 years ago when the New York Islanders came back to stun the Pittsburgh Penguins and in 1942 the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to beat Detroit and lift the Cup.

But the Wings, who have qualified for the playoffs 19 straight seasons and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals the last two years, have the target of adding their name to that list of great NHL comebacks.

The Red Wings victory also shifted some pressure on San Jose shoulders.

During recent playoff failures the Sharks have not displayed the necessary killer instinct and despite knowing the Wings were most dangerous when backed into a corner they seemed completely unprepared for the challenge.

"We're all disappointed not so much the fact we lost but we weren't prepared when we knew what was coming," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan.

"We said all the right things but didn't go out and respond. We have some work to do. Maybe this spanking we got tonight will wake us up a little bit and make us aware we're in a hell of a series."

The game began with a tribute to iconic Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell who passed away on Tuesday and the capacity crowd chanting "Ernie, Ernie" but it wasn't long until Franzen's name was rattling the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.

After setting up Todd Bertuzzi's opener, the player known to fans of the Red Wings as "the Mule" scored three times during an electric three minute, 26 second span that blew the roof off the aging arena and left the Sharks floundering.

"It's different now," said Franzen, who has six playoff goals. "We had to win this game and the next one...we have to keep winning."

With the first three games of the series resulting in 4-3 score lines, the Red Wings ended the suspense early, Valtteri Filppula adding a fifth goal before the end of the opening period.

When the teams returned for the second, Evgeni Nabokov had been replaced in the San Jose net by Thomas Greiss but the switch did little to slow the assault, Brian Rafalski hammering a slap shot past the backup to welcome him into the game.

The Sharks' Dany Heatley scored with 49 seconds remaining in the second to end Jimmy Howard's shutout bid but it would be the only puck to get past the netminder who faced 29 shots.

Fittingly it was left to Franzen to complete the rout rifling a shot past Greiss for his fourth of the game.

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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