SAN JOSE, Calif. (The Hockey Writers) Vancouver took the ice at HP Pavilion in San Jose Friday night with a 2-0 series lead and the Stanley Cup Final in their pocket.
If you don’t believe that, just read their press clippings. You’ll be in good company, because it looked like that’s exactly what the Canucks spent the first period doing — finding out how good other people said they were.
The Toronto Globe and Mail said “there’s one overriding factor that should prevent another powder keg in Game 3 at HP Pavilion . . . power plays.”
After seeing a 4-2 deficit balloon to 7-2 Wednesday because of the Canucks’ power play, the San Jose Sharks scored on each of their first two power plays in the first period, then again in the third, en route to a 4-3 victory at home.
Suddenly, what appeared to be a runaway express bears more resemblance to a circus train.
The Vancouver Canucks took 11 penalties Friday night for a total of 32 minutes, although 12 of those minutes were not served at all because they came in the final 51 seconds of a game they were still completely in.
A team whose coach whined when Ben Eager did not receive a suspension for boarding Henrik Sedin in Game 2 might have lost a bit of credibility when that same coach, Alain Vigneault, described his team’s play as “disciplined” after drawing 11 whistles.
Really, coach? Disciplined? Was Kevin Bieksa disciplined when he was whistled for hooking at 19:09 while Vancouver had an extra attacker on the ice, trailing by a single goal?
“I think Kevin’s intentions were really good,” Vigneault said, “but on certain occasions he wanted to do too much out there and it got him in trouble.”
Well, then, how about Maxim Lapierre’s 10-minute misconduct at the same time? “If I talk about the penalties tonight, I’ll pay a heavy fine, so I think I’ll pass,” was all the Vancouver coach had to say.
The Vancouver Sun headlined its off-day story “Canucks, Daniel Sedin keep their heads while Sharks lose theirs”, with a subtitle that “Composure, discipline a hallmark of this Vancouver team as it rolls through NHL playoffs”.
OK, then explain that slashing penalty on Ryan Kesler at 20:00 of the third period? After the game is over? After the final whistle?
Actually, it’s pretty simple. San Jose was the better team Friday night, and the game was only close because the officials called a 5-minute boarding major on Sharks’ forward Jamie McGinn when he crumpled Aaron Rome to the ice with 8:38 to play. Opinions were split on whether it truly deserved a major call, but it drew blood, so was going to be 4:00 at the least. McGinn was also assessed a game misconduct on the play, during which Rome appeared to turn his back to McGinn after seeing him coming.
For his part, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said the right things about the play, “I had a chance to watch it on the video. Referees probably made the right call on the ice, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t think there was any intent on Jamie’s behalf. We hope that Rome is healthy. We don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Could very easily be one of our players in that situation. We do wish him well.”
Rome’s loss would not normally bother Vancouver much — he is their sixth defenseman. But earlier in the game, the man most would think is their most important defender, former Shark Christian Ehrhoff, left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. Vigneault, when asked if it was possible that Ehrhoff or Rome might miss game four, said flatly, “Yes. Both.” Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts are the likely candidates to dress for Game 4.
The Canucks scored twice on the 5-minute penalty, with the second goal being somewhat fluky.
“It (is) a little different situation when you have a five minute power play to kill off,” said Ryane Clowe. “I thought, overall, we did a good job. We had a bad bounce on Bieksa’s goal off Whitey’s skate. They had some pressure; we blocked a lot of shots. I liked our composure tonight.”
There’s that word again — composure. McLellan said his team lost theirs in Game 2 with the score still 3-2. That did not happen Friday.
Not that there wasn’t ample opportunity. Andrew Desjardins, playing in his first playoff game, was already in the box for holding the stick when Joe Thornton committed the same infraction trying to kill the penalty. The result was a 1:26 5-on-3 situation, which was then extended when Desjardin was whistled for tripping a Vancouver player while coming out of the penalty box. The two minute add-on gave the Canucks an extra 30 seconds of 5-on-3, and it gave Thornton the opportunity to scold Desjardins while watching it.
The Sharks killed off that infraction, too, giving them a 4-minute-plus penalty kill to end the second period.
Vancouver scored early in the third, leading some fans to experience deja vu, but San Jose answered with Boyle’s 5-on-3 slap-shot from the left circle to increase the lead to 4-1 and allow them to weather the 5-minute power play storm later in the period.
“I thought that was a real important sequence for us,” said McLellan. “To play the next five or six minutes and regain our composure. They got a little momentum there. We got to the time out and then there was the big five on three goal. That made the difference and it kind of calmed us down. Much better composure there on our behalf.”
Lapierre took a roughing penalty just two minutes into the contest, and Patrick Marleau, who played his best all-around game, not just of the playoffs, but likely in several years, made Vancouver pay with just seven seconds left in the power play when he poked home a rebound of a Thornton shot from the crease. Marleau spent much of the evening in Luongo’s field of vision.
With Ehrhoff in the box for a double-minor for high sticking just three minutes later, Clowe notched his first tally of the Conference Finals when he hammered home a Boyle rebound, also in the crease, while having his feet taken out from under him, giving San Jose a 2-0 lead and making them an astonishing 5-for-5 on the power play in the series.
The highlight-reel goal came near the end of the first period, when a Vancouver shot was rebounded into the slot, where Joe Thornton pushed it into the neutral zone with a stretch pass that led a streaking Marleau. Once he got clear of the Canucks defenders, he screamed right down the slot at Luongo, who never made a move for the high shot over his left shoulder.
Thornton finished the game with three assists, giving him eight points in his last six playoff games. Marleau is now on a four-game goal-scoring streak, with five lamplighters in that span. Dan Boyle added a goal and an assist and leads all defensemen in scoring in the playoffs with 15 points and also with 12 assists.
Antti Niemi stopped 27 shots en route to the 4-3 victory, while Luongo saved 34 of the 38 he faced. The Sharks blocked 26 more attempts by Vancouver, with defensemen Ian White and Douglas Murray registering 6 and 5, respectively. Alexander Edler had 5 of Vancouver’s 22 blocks, while no Canuck had a multi-point game.
Game 4 is Sunday at noon Pacific in San Jose.