The Western Conference Final is a mouthwatering match up. For every strength on one side, there is a corresponding strength on the other. Better depth at forward for the Sharks? I see that and raise you a Top 6 defense core for the Canucks?
A goalie that has not won versus one that has, but still had to find a new job? Well, I will leave it up to you who has the better of that match up. But let’s say the depth of the Canuck forwards is not to be laughed at either.
This game started out intense and hard hitting. The Canuck players were finishing every check, and did that all night. The Sedins came out strong early, causing havoc in the Shark’s end. The line of Thornton, Setoguchi and Marleau was strong as well. Thornton was playing so well his coach ran him through the lines, but the rest of the Sharks had good shifts and bad.
The Canucks seemed to be strong no matter who was on the ice. They were fast, adn the hunger in their game was great to see for Canuck fans. That hard work led to the first power play of the game, when Douglas Murray cross checked Kesler in the face.
The Shark penalty killers were solid, and prevented any scoring. Niemi was finding the puck low, and through Kesler’s screens. The pressure and momentum did carry over, and the Canuck forwards were doing a fabulous job keeping the Sharks on their heels. This is the 2nd best team in the West though, and they did push forward.
That is until Ben Eager took a flat out dumb penalty. Maybe it was a bit of a reputation call, but Luongo had the puck well and truly frozen when he poked at his glove AND pushed Ehrhoff on top of him.
The power play did a little better, but once again the Shark penalty killers were solid. They actually quieted the building with their superlative penalty kill.
With the game going back and forth, but the Canucks the more aggressive team, the opening goal came on a flat out mistake by Luongo. He basically passed the puck right to Thornton, and then this happened…
The building was like a pricked balloon, as all the air left it. The Sharks entered the second period with a lead. They had the first goal, and you could almost feel the fans muttering. Worse, it gave the Sedins another minus they did not deserve!
But a look at the stats sheet showed the Canucks were playing well. Henrik was 7 of 8 in the circle. Daniel led his team with 4 shots on net. Edler led the team with three first period hits, a couple of them huge. Salo had 10 shifts and was his usual solid self.
The home team came out hard in the second period to start as well. They would be rewarded when the third line ( Lapierre, Torres and Hansen were among the best Canucks this night ). Torres made a great read, got the puck to Hansen behind the net, and…well…here, look for yourself.
They had a chance to take the lead again when Huskins hooked Burrows blowing by him, but once again the visitor’s penalty killers were up to the task. So, when Mason Raymond took a penalty moments later, it was the home team’s turn right?
Wrong. A combination of good puck movement, and a defensive breakdown in front allowed Marleau to tip a Boyle wrister, and the visitors had a lead again.
The middle period was the most open, and both goalies were good, but Niemi was looking tremendous in the second. His play was making some fans surely think about the way he played against the Vancouver team with the Hawks last year. The best example of that had to be with about 3 minutes left. Just watch this sequence. How the puck stayed out is beyond me.
The third period was simply all Canucks. Whether it was having more rest, or the Sharks choking a little, I don’t know. But only one team showed up for the third, more or less. That being said, it was Luongo that saved his team and gave them a chance to come back when the Sharks put on some great pressure early in the final frame.
After that it was all Canucks. They were faster, hitting more, and making plays. It finally payed off when the Sedins made an impact again. Henrik made a great rush out of his own end, a nice flip pass to Burrows, who made an even better one to Bieksa coming in late. Here’s the result…
It was like blood in the water for the Orcas after that. San Jose had a few rushes, but not too many. Hamhuis and Bieksa were excellent in their own end, and it was the home team with their “tails up”. That pressure gave the Sharks fits, and it led directly to Heatley taking a penalty. It was a “selfish” penalty, in the sense that he saw Torres coming to finish the check on him, and put his elbow into his face for the easiest call of the night for the referees ( we give them guff sometimes, but Walkom and Devorski reffed a very good game today ).
The Canuck power play looked sharper this time. Check out this pass from Ehrhoff to Henrik Sedin.
The Canucks did something different this time though. They did not sit back and try to protect the lead. As a result, the Sharks had a hard time even getting into their zone. They had to overcome some late icings with the goalie pulled, but the whole team was selling out, as was evidenced by Daniel being out on a face off with 25 seconds left ( Henrik turned to AV and made him laugh by telling him he should “let us change sweaters” ). He followed it up with a blocked shot that spoke volumes about how the whole team was buying in.
So, the all important 1st win goes the Canucks way. Their best players were their best players, but this win had as much to do with the 3rd and 4th liners playing their best as anything else.
Next game is Wednesday. Can’t wait.