Bieksa put the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994 by scoring the double-overtime winner on a seeing-eye knuckler from just inside the blue line 10:18 into the second extra period Tuesday in Game 5 against San Jose. His goal gave Vancouver a 3-2 victory that was only possible because Kesler scored the game-tying goal with 13.2 seconds left in regulation and Luongo made 54 saves, including 20 in overtime.
Fittingly, the Canucks earned their trip to this year's Stanley Cup Final on the 17th anniversary of Greg Adams' double-OT winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against Toronto. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Tampa Bay. The Bruins hold a 3-2 lead with Game 6 Wednesday in Tampa.
"It's a big surreal right now," Bieksa said while wearing his brand new Western Conference championship hat and T-shirt. "It's still fresh, but it's something you work for your entire life and it's going to be fun to go with this group of guys."
A trip back to San Jose for Game 6 looked like it was in the cards for the Canucks heading into the final minute of regulation, but Kesler got a piece of Henrik Sedin's one-timer from the right wing half-wall and tipped it past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi to force overtime.
Kesler's sixth-attacker goal came after an icing call on the Sharks, but replays showed the puck shot around the glass by defenseman Dan Boyle actually deflected off of Daniel Sedin. It was ruled an icing nevertheless and the Canucks took advantage with Kesler winning the in-zone faceoff from Joe Thornton and then establishing position in front of the net.
Boyle said he didn't see the puck hit off Daniel Sedin, but several of his teammates were telling him it did.
"The faceoff should have been outside the zone," he said. "Stuff like that happens. It is what it is. It's done now."
Boyle also said he firmly believed the Sharks were the better team coming into the series and judging by their chances in Game 5, they should have forced a Game 6.
San Jose outshot the Canucks 56-34 Tuesday night. They had 16 shots in the first overtime session and four more in the second. But Luongo was just too good -- he made a playoff-high 54 saves.
"We had tons of chances. We had about five, six or seven shifts where we were in their end and we just threw everything at them," Boyle said. "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."
Luongo did his job and Bieksa finally ended it with 9:42 left in the second OT when he fired a shot from the top of the zone between Antti Niemi's left pad and the right post. It was easily the strangest goal scored in the series.
Alex Edler tried to chip the puck off the boards and into the corners, but it hit off something -- Bieksa said it was a partition in the glass. The puck instead caromed to Bieksa, who was a few feet inside the Sharks' blue line.
Nobody but Bieksa actually saw the puck take the odd turn off the glass. The camera angle CBC was showing live didn't even have Bieksa in the screen when the puck went into the net.
Niemi curled behind the net thinking the puck was going there. He never had time to get back in position to stop Bieksa's shot.
"I just one-timed it on net and not many people knew where it was," Bieksa said. "It was just a knuckleball. I barely got enough on it to put it on net. It was a hard puck to shoot. It was probably the ugliest goal of my career, but the biggest."
"Usually the referee blows it down when they don't see the puck," Henrik Sedin said. "But it was a good goal."
Said Niemi: "I saw the puck bounce, then I didn't see it. I looked back and looked in front, and then it came."
"Nobody knew where it was," added Boyle.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said it was one of those goals that his team could simply do nothing about.
"The only guy that knew where the puck was was Kevin Bieksa," McLellan said. "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."
One more save by Niemi in regulation and the Sharks would have still been alive in this series and 30 minutes and 18 seconds of overtime would not have been necessary. However, Kesler scored the dramatic 6-on-5 goal despite playing with a likely lower-body injury that made him leave the game for a while in the second period.
Patrick Marleau actually scored the game-tying power-play goal on a tip-in as Kesler limped to the bench with 10:03 to play in the second period.
"The doctors took care of me and got me back out there quick," Kesler said. "They did a good job and it felt good to get that one."
He was on the bench to start the third and watched as Joe Pavelski hit Devin Setoguchi on a 2-on-0 break for the go-ahead goal just 24 seconds into the period. Henrik Sedin whiffed on a clearing attempt and Luongo well out of his crease to challenge Pavelski, but the Sharks' center was able to one-hand a pass over to Setoguchi, who deposited the puck into the empty net.
It looked like that goal was going to hold up, that every party in this province would have to be postponed at least until Thursday. But Kesler, Luongo and Bieksa made sure the celebration could go on as planned, that the blue and green confetti could rain on the Canucks after Game 5.
"It feels unbelievable," Bieksa said. "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."