SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The fans at HP Pavilion were loud, boisterous and exuberant from pregame warmups all the way through the final whistle on Sunday afternoon. They were waving flags, chanting and singing their national anthem at times, too.
Yes, Game 4 of the Western Conference Final was quite the celebration for the fans of the Vancouver Canucks who made the trip to Northern California.
Sami Salo scored twice, Henrik Sedin had four assists, and the Canucks scored a postseason record three 5-on-3 goals during a 4-2 victory against the Sharks. The win gave the Canucks a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series and moved them to within one victory of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994.
There were far more Sharks fans than Canucks fans at HP Pavilion on Sunday, but those who made the journey south made the Canucks feel like they were at home from the get-go.
"In warmup, during the anthem, to hear our fans in an American city chant, 'O Canada,' it was just incredible," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
"Going out for warmup on the ice, it's almost like you're playing a home game," Sedin said. "Fans are around the rink yelling and screaming. It was a great feeling going out there. It's nice to see the support we have and how excited our city is for our journey here in the playoffs."
The Canucks will look to eliminate the Sharks on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver during Game 5. But for the first half of Game 4, it looked like nothing was going to go the Canucks' way.
The Sharks received the first five power plays of the game -- three in the first period and two more early in the second period. It could've been bad news for the Canucks, who allowed six power-play goals in 13 chances during the series.
Instead, it was exactly what the Canucks needed to build some confidence. They killed all five penalties, most of them with ease. They even generated two great scoring chances during their first shorthanded sequence that Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi shut down.
"We talked about it coming into this game that we wanted to stay out of the box, but at the same time we also talked about how we were going to deal with it," said Alexandre Burrows, who scored a goal and logged 3:59 of shorthanded ice time. "We knew we were going to take some penalties and we just had to deal with it, kill it and go out there and keep pushing the pace.
"I think our mindset was really good. We knew we could get the job done and I think we really battled harder on the PK. We were more committed at blocking shots and battling hard for those loose pucks along the boards."
A little more than 5 minutes after the Canucks killed the fifth penalty, they made some special-teams history.
Dany Heatley and Torrey Mitchell made their way to the penalty box in a 50-second span to give the Canucks their first 5-on-3 of the game. It took just 11 seconds for Ryan Kesler to drill home his sixth goal of the postseason to make it 1-0 at 9:16 of the second period.
Just 1:34 later, the Sharks were called for too many men on the ice. With Ryane Clowe serving the bench minor, it took just 16 seconds for Salo to fire home his first goal of the game to make it 2-0.
Defenseman Douglas Murray cleared the puck over the glass from inside his own zone just six seconds later, giving the Canucks their third 5-on-3 power play in less than two minutes. Just 10 seconds later, it was Salo once again ripping home a shot from the point to make it 3-0 at 11:11.
Salo's blasts were the difference after the Canucks failed to score on a pair of 5-on-3 chances in Game 3. They had just four shots in total during second period and a franchise playoff low 13 for the game, but Salo certainly made his count.
"Without a doubt, Sami's shot is a big weapon," Vigneault said. "We tried it last game on those 5-on-3s. I thought we had some great scoring chances, but their goaltender made some unbelievable saves. Today we were able to throw a couple little things at them that maybe caught them off guard on that 5-on-3. Sami's shot was available and we used it twice real quickly and it worked."
Sedin picked up his fourth assist of the game -- and by far the prettiest -- on Burrows' sixth goal of the postseason at 5:43 of the third period.
Sedin carried the puck down the right wing on a 2-on-1 with Burrows and drove hard to the net. It appeared Sedin had run out of room to make a pass, but he found a way to slide the puck through the legs of Niemi and directly onto the stick of Burrows for a tap-in goal to make it 4-0.
"Every time I have a chance to go on a 2-on-1 with him, I just keep my stick on the ice," Burrows said. "That one, I barely saw it come through. It just hit my blade and went in."
Daniel Sedin, who had three assists, said the play happened so fast that he couldn't believe the pass made it through Niemi.
"It was a good breakout from faceoff to Daniel, to me," Henrik said. "Then we had a 2-on-1. I was looking for Burr all the way. I had nothing left but to sneak through his five-hole."
Andrew Desjardins' first career playoff goal and Clowe's sixth of the playoffs during the third period brought the Sharks to within two goals and gave the team their third and fourth goals at 5-on-5 in the series. But the Sharks may have suffered a massive blow with about 10 minutes left in the game.
Canucks troublemaker Raffi Torres leveled Sharks captain Joe Thornton with a huge hit that sent Thornton to the ice. He didn’t return to the game and coach Todd McLellan said his status would be updated Monday at practice.
If Thornton can't go in Game 5, those Canucks fans who celebrated a victory at HP Pavilion on Sunday could have a far better chance of celebrating a Western Conference championship on Tuesday night in Vancouver.
"We're excited obviously," said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves. "But the series is far from over. We know that as we've seen in the first two series, the last one is always the toughest one to win. We're excited we got a win here in San Jose, but we start shifting our focus right away for Tuesday night. We know it's going to be a big one, probably our toughest game of the series."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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