SAN JOSE -- The rematch between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks turned out to be a repeat of last spring.
Vancouver picked up Saturday where it left off in May, when it needed just five games to beat the Sharks in the Western Conference Final. At a sold-out HP Pavilion, the Canucks handed San Jose a 3-2 defeat, winning their fourth straight game and snapping the Sharks' four-game winning streak.
Manny Malhotra, Henrik Sedin and Andrew Alberts scored for the Canucks, and goaltender Cory Schneider stopped 43 shots to win his fourth straight game. His string of shutouts ended at two, but he has allowed just three goals in his four wins.
Andrew Murray scored his first goal of the season for the Sharks and Patrick Marleau added a goal at 18:45 of the third after San Jose pulled goaltender Antti Niemi, cutting the lead to 3-2. Niemi, coming off a 1-0 shutout of Chicago on Wednesday, stopped 24 shots as his five-game winning streak ended.
The Canucks went 3-0-1 against the Sharks in the 2010-11 regular season before winning four of five in the postseason. They're now 8-1-1 in their past 10 games against San Jose.
"Obviously their fans don't really like us, they don't really like us, we don't really like them," Schneider said. "It always feels like a playoff game, whether it's November or March or June. So it's a fun team to play against. Hopefully, I'm sure we'll see them down the road."
Vancouver played its third road game in four days and its second in two days -- they won 5-0 in Phoenix on 5-0 on Friday night while the Sharks rested at home. Despite that apparent scheduling edge, the Sharks couldn't take advantage -- although they made the Canucks sweat in the closing minutes, cutting the lead to one on Marleau's goal, then continuing to attack.
"Third game in four nights on the road, obviously we knew it was going to be real challenging against one of the strongest teams in the NHL," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We grinded it out. I thought our first and second period we were pretty good 5 on 5.
"I thought penalty-killing we gave them some Grade A chances. The best penalty-killer is usually your goaltender, and that was the case tonight. And then in the third, obviously, we're running on a little bit of fumes there, but we found a way to get it done with key saves at the right time."
The Canucks scored back-to-back goals midway through the second to take a 3-1 lead and grab control of the game, despite getting outshot 18-13 in the period.
Henrik Sedin scored at 10:17 on the Canucks' first power play of the night. With Sharks captain Joe Thornton in the box for slashing Alexandre Burrows, Vancouver wasted little time showing why it has the NHL's top-ranked power play. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis blasted a long-range shot that bounced off Niemi, directly to a wide open Sedin in the left penalty circle. He lasered a shot past Niemi, just inside the left post, putting Vancouver ahead 2-1.
Less than a minute later, the Canucks struck again. This time Alberts ripped a hard wrister from the blue line that beat Niemi, who appeared to be shielded by traffic in front of the net. Alberts' first goal of the season put Vancouver up 3-1 at 11:07.
"The goaltender played a very good game on their behalf," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Schneider. "Then they come down and the rebound goes right to their player. He shoots it from a tough angle and it goes into the net.
"We aren't as frustrated as coaches. Obviously we came to the rink to win, and we are disappointed we lost to a pretty good team. It's probably the best we played in the last five, and it's the one that we happened to lose."
Schneider got the starting nod against San Jose over a healthy Roberto Luongo.
"(Luongo's) one of our most competitive players," Vigneault said. "Obviously he wants to play, but he knows Cory's playing real well right now and he knows I'm always going to do what's best for the team. And that's never going to change. It doesn't matter who you are."
Schneider stopped a combined 46 stops in his shutouts of Colorado and Phoenix. The Sharks sent 45 shots his way.
"Sometimes it's better to see a lot of shots," Schneider said. "It gets you into the game. With them, you're just ready for them at all times. It's a good one to get under our belts as a team and kind of make a statement here."
The Sharks and Canucks battled to a 1-1 tie in a high-energy first period that included a fight – San Jose's Brad Winchester against Vancouver's Aaron Volpatti in a rematch of their preseason bout – as well as plenty of good scoring chances and solid goaltending.
Vancouver, which outshot the Sharks 11-10 in the first, took a 1-0 lead at 6:13 on Malhotra's goal. The former Shark fired a sharp-angled shot from the left wall that banked off defenseman Douglas Murray's skate in front of the net and past Niemi. Jannik Hansen and Keith Ballard got the assists.
San Jose evened the score when Andrew Murray, a fourth-line winger, scored his first goal of the season and as a Shark at 16:03 of the first. Center Andrew Desjardins made the goal possible with a spectacular backhand, no-look pass across the crease to a wide-open Murray, stationed just to the left of the crease. Murray, a free-agent pickup from Columbus, banged home the puck, making it 1-1.
"I think (Winchester) did a nice job in his tussle setting the tone, and getting a goal was good, too," Andrew Murray said of the fourth line."
The Sharks and Canucks have had plenty of bad blood on the ice in recent years, and last spring's battle in the conference final, which turned nasty at times, only raised the level of discord. Approaching Saturday night's clash, the Sharks and Canucks did some verbal jousting, trading barbs and raising the intensity level. Despite the buildup and history, there was just the one fight and just a little extra-curricular activity.
"They play tough," Henrik Sedin said of the Sharks. "We knew that. We're not a team that's going to back down. We played a lot of teams in the playoffs the last three or four years. These guys are no different than Chicago or Nashville or any of those teams. The teams you play in the playoffs you usually come back the next year and because you played a lot of games against them you're going to get the rivalry. But there's no different than other teams."
The last time these teams met in a game that counted, the Canucks beat the Sharks 3-2 in Game 5, needing two overtimes to end the series at Rogers Arena. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa scored the game-winning goal after the puck took a bizarre bounce off a stanchion and nearly every Shark – including Niemi – lost track of its location.
On Saturday, the Sharks suffered another tough, one-goal loss. "We played well," Thornton said. "We just didn't capitalize on some of the chances that we had. I thought we probably deserved a better fate. That's hockey sometimes."
Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler left Saturday's game in the second period after suffering an upper body injury from a collision with Sharks winger Jamie McGinn.
"Just got a big hit there in the second period," Vigneault said. "Upper body and will reevaluated tomorrow when we get back."
Vancouver forward Mason Raymond warmed up before the game but didn't play. He hasn't played since fracturing a vertebra during the Stanley Cup Final against Boston. Vigneault said Raymond was healthy enough to play Saturday but that he didn't want to change his lineup after Friday's win.