Alex Edler’s seemingly-innocuous cycle toward the corner fooled almost everyone: 18,860 fans standing on their feet, nine skaters looking to where the puck should be, three referees, one goalie, one cameraman and even the on-air announcer.
The operative words were almost everyone.
Kevin Bieksa corralled the puck after it deflected high in the air off the partition and landed fortuitously at his feet, wound and fired a bouncing shot that skittered past a startled Antti Niemi and into the net, sending the Vancouver Canucks into the Stanley Cup finals after a thrilling, double-overtime win in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, 3-2. With the sudden, shocking end to an epic battle, the Canucks claimed the series 4-1 along with the Clarence Campbell trophy, and now await the winner of the Boston Bruins/Tampa Bay Lightning Eastern Conference finals series.
“I’ve been here for seven years and I’ve never seen a puck go off the partition and come right out like that,” Bieksa explained. “It bounced right to me and I tried to make sure I got enough wood on it to make sure it got to the net.”
The game started with the Sharks playing as if their lives depended upon a victory, which metaphorically speaking was the case. Just 90 seconds into the game, Joe Thornton fed Patrick Marleau, who snapped a shot off Roberto Luongo’s blocker, with Devin Setoguchi and Marleau’s follow-up efforts stopped by Luongo as well, sending him flat on his back to the ice.
The game see-sawed between the two clubs until 8:02 in the first, when a dump-in stayed in the corner, ultimately controlled by Daniel Sedin. The ensuing sequence was highlight reel material: Daniel paused, then backhanded a pass to brother Henrik Sedin, who immediately sent the puck laterally to Alexander Burrows. Burrows one-timed it from the top of the crease into the half open net for the early 1-0 Vancouver lead.
The first period ended with Vancouver clinging to the 1-0 lead, despite being outshot 15-6, in part due to the Sharks being the benefactors of two power play opportunities to none for the Canucks. On the second of their man advantages, Joe Thornton just missed tying up the game, ringing a shot off the post.
In the second period, San Jose tied the score. After a Kevin Bieksa high-sticking minor, the Sharks worked the puck around, with Dan Boyle eventually finding a shooting lane and snapping a shot on net. Patrick Marleau brought his stick up and tipped the puck home, evening the game 1-1. Late in the period and after a turnover in the San Jose zone, Daniel Sedin found Henrik all alone in the slot, and his one-timer was stopped by Niemi. Alexander Burrows, camping in front, batted the rebound at the net, also saved by a sprawling Niemi, with the puck dribbling just wide of the post. After two periods, the game remained tied 1-1, with the Sharks handily leading in shots, 25-12.
“We had tons of chances,” said San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle. “We had about five, six or seven shifts where we were in their end and we just threw everything at them. We missed a lot of freaking chances, but that’s the name of the game, you’ve got to bury them. Obviously we have to give Lu credit, but that’s on us. I think we had the chances, the looks, and didn’t put it in.”
On the first shift of the third period and after a save by Niemi on a Burrows tip attempt, a quick 2-1 developed the other direction, with Joe Pavelski slipping past Alex Edler and diving to the ice in spectacular fashion to direct the puck wide of the poke-check attempt by Luongo, who came far out to challenge the play. The puck reached the stick of Devin Setoguchi a split-second ahead of Luongo, who tapped it into the vacated net for the 2-1 San Jose lead.
The score remained 2-1 San Jose until under 30 seconds left in the game. With Roberto Luongo on the bench for the extra attacker, Ryan Kesler won the draw deep in the Sharks’ zone. The puck went to the point, where Alex Edler drove it back down low to Henrik Sedin. Sedin slid it to Alexander Burrows, who sent it to Daniel. The flow then reversed the other direction, back along the left side until the puck reached Alex Edler. Edler moved to his left, then passed to Henrik, who wristed a shot that was deflected perfectly by Kesler underneath the arm of Antti Niemi for the clutch game-tying goal with just 14 seconds left in regulation. As the horn sounded, the game was tied 2-2.
In the first overtime, the Sharks had their chances. Douglas Murray, Patrick Marleau, Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood all had outstanding scoring opportunities thwarted by Roberto Luongo, who played his best game of the series, stopping 54 shots. The first overtime ended with the game still tied 2-2.
Halfway through the second overtime, superstition trumped science, leading to alchemy for the Canucks and an ending befitting replay after replay for months to come. “The only guy that knew where the puck was was Kevin Bieksa,” said San Jose coach Todd McLellan. “When you watch the replay, the officials didn’t know where it was, Nemo didn’t know where it was, Vancouver, San Jose, nobody knew where it was. It came right to Bieksa. One more bounce he probably whiffs on it we’re still playing.” Almost as frustrating for the Sharks was the icing call that set up the winner, as replays showed the puck hit Daniel Sedin just as it was sent down the ice. “”Obviously an error,” said McLellan. But there’s nothing we’re doing about it now. We were yelling and screaming, but it wasn’t going to change.”
Joe Thornton, commenting on the series in which the Sharks handily outshot the Canucks but couldn’t find a way to win, said succinctly: “Tough series. We lost, and they go on. Disappointing right now. We had to win, but we didn’t.” On the other end of the spectrum was Kevin Bieksa. “It feels unbelievable. To go to the Stanley Cup Final is a dream come true, and to do it with this group of guys — our core has been here for seven or eight years working toward something special and we have a huge opportunity in front of us.”
Vancouver, magic hat and wand at the ready, now waits to see if they can climb the final mountain to claim their first Stanley Cup. With the wizardry Luongo and the Sedins have displayed throughout these playoffs, don’t bet against it.