VANCOUVER -- For 37 minutes Sunday night, the Vancouver Canucks were the slower team and the 18,860 inside Rogers Arena couldn't muster much out of their vocal chords to help them out.
It didn't matter because for the final 23 minutes the Canucks looked like they were the vastly superior team in a game of pond hockey, and the building was absolutely rocking.
Vancouver outskated and outplayed the San Jose, and its dominance resulted in a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Kevin Bieksa and Henrik Sedin scored goals 79 seconds apart in the third period and used the momentum they gained late in the second period all the way to the finish line to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship round series. Game 2 is Wednesday night back at Rogers Arena.
"I just think we finally found our legs," Canucks center Ryan Kesler said. "We were a little rusty in the first period. I thought we played well, but I think second and third period we found that extra gear and we continued. We forced them and we put a lot of pucks on the net. We generated most of the offense."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan admitted his team "looked tired, sluggish" in the third.
"We were like dogs chasing cars down the freeway," McLellan added. "We weren't catching anybody. We put the puck into very poor spots. They eventually beat us at the type of game we want to play."
McLellan agreed that playing an emotional Game 7 Thursday against Detroit might have had something to do with the Sharks' difficulties late in the second and throughout the third.
"We tried to put on a brave face and we talked about being fresh and mentally ready to go," he said. "I thought for 37 minutes we were able to skate. Basically what happened, I thought the team that potentially was rusty, because they hadn't played for a while, found their legs while we lost ours. When you look at the route we took to get here, they had a few days off and we had an emotional, taxing game. We're lucky enough to be playing, but we've got get better, we've got to get energized and ready for Game 2."
The Canucks may have waited nearly two periods to get going Sunday, but a frantic flurry around Sharks goalie Antti Niemi late in the second turned the momentum in Game 1.
Niemi (35 saves) made some scintillating stops in the final three minutes of the period, first with his right pad on Ryan Kesler and next with his left pad on Jannik Hansen, but the Canucks were dominating the play by controlling the puck and getting the Sharks' chasing all over the defensive zone.
Vancouver outshot San Jose, 7-1, in the final three minutes of the second and the momentum carried over into the third. Not only did they get a goal from Bieksa at 7:02 and a power-play goal from Henrik Sedin at 8:21, but they never stopped pressuring and wound up outshooting the Sharks, 13-7, over the final 20 minutes.
"I thought the last 25 minutes we played our best hockey of the game," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We went north-south real quickly. We made their defensemen turn back and go for pucks, and we were able to create turnovers off of that that led to time in their end, good quality time."
Bieksa tied the game with a shot from the right circle into the top left portion of the net. Henrik Sedin dumped it down the left wing wall and Alex Burrows chased it down, saw Bieksa and fed a diagonal pass up to him in stride.
"I came late into the play and Bur, with the great vision that he has saw me, found me and I put it on net," Bieksa said.
Dany Heatley was called for elbowing Raffi Torres just 32 seconds later and Sedin cashed in on the ensuing power play. Christian Ehrhoff found him with a pretty pass from the point and Henrik used his backhand from the slot to beat Niemi.
It was only his second goal of the playoffs and his first that didn't go into an empty net. It also proved to be the game-winner.
Henrik, who was facing serious criticism for his lack of production in the first two rounds (9 points and a minus-8 rating in 13 games), said he wasn't worried about the pressure he or his twin brother Daniel were under heading into this round.
"We rarely read the newspapers or watch the hockey coverage on TV," Henrik said. "We know when we're not playing well. We don't have to hear that from anyone else. There have been games where we haven't been happy with our performance. There's been other games where we've been happy with the way we played. A few of those games we've ended up being minus a lot in the game. That doesn't help in the coverage, but we're a group that doesn't really get bothered by that stuff. Everyone has been positive in the room. That's been helpful."
The Canucks' third line of Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Torres played a big role as well. Torres and Hansen set up Lapierre for a game-tying tip-in goal from the slot just 1:49 into the second period.
San Jose had grabbed a 1-0 lead when Roberto Luongo's giveaway to Joe Thornton wound up in the back of the net with only 1:13 left in the first period, so it was big for the Canucks that their third line connected early in the second and continued to play their energy game throughout the contest.
Lapierre's goal was his first of the playoffs.
"We could have had two or three tonight with a couple of more bounces our way," Torres said. "We're not going to be greedy. We'll take what we can get and it was a good start."
Patrick Marleau scored on the power play roughly seven minutes later when he deflected Dan Boyle's shot from the left point. The Sharks continued to pressure for the next couple of minutes, but once the Canucks were able to find their legs they found some offense and dominated the rest of the way.
San Jose has two days to figure out how to reverse that trend.
"We didn't put the puck in the right areas," McLellan said. "We didn't give ourselves a chance."