|SJS Lead Series 3 - 0|
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks entered the third period Sunday night at HP Pavilion nursing a 2-1 lead and expecting a desperate battle to the end from the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series.
The Sharks can end the series Tuesday night with a victory in Game 4 at HP, where they've lost just twice all season in regulation.
"It's nice to get the quick ones there," Couture said. "Mine on the power play and then Patty, right off the face-off shows his explosive speed. Big goals. Got the crowd back into it, got us going in the third there. It was a lot of fun."
The Sharks took a one-goal lead into the third period on the strength of Joe Pavelski's two goals. Couture made it 3-1 with a power-play goal just 1:40 into the third. Marleau made the Canucks pay for a turnover, scoring from the slot, giving him a goal in three straight playoff games.
Then just 4:07 into the third, Couture scored another power-play goal -- the Sharks' third of the night in eight attempts against a Canucks team that paid a steep price for its parade to the penalty box.
"It was not a lot of fun," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "They have a great power play and they were at it again. I don't know what happened except that we spent way too much time in the penalty box. We have to stay calm. It's really just a few small things that are costing us, like taking the extra penalty."
After Couture's second goal, that was it for Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider, who experienced a nightmare in his first playoff start of the series after missing the first two games with an undisclosed injury. He allowed five goals on 28 shots.
Roberto Luongo, who started the first two games, replaced Schneider. The question now is, which Canucks goaltender will start Game 4 Tuesday?
"I never announce my starting goaltender until the day before," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "So I'm not going to change that. I think that all goaltenders have a short memory when you are asked the next time to play. You have to go out there and play your heart out."
Schneider hadn't played in a game in nearly two weeks, and it showed.
"I got caught leaning a couple times," Schneider said. "I was anticipating instead of reading. I expect to play Tuesday, but that's out of my hands. I want to be back in there."
The Sharks might not mind seeing him again.
"We felt Lou was playing great, to be honest with you," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said of Luongo. "We felt lucky we didn't have to play against him. When we shot tonight, we made it count, and it was big that we did."
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped 28 shots, earning his third win of the series. He's allowed just five goals in those three games, putting the Canucks on the brink of elimination.
Only three teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 to win a seven-game series, but the Sharks don't expect Vancouver to go quietly and know better than to get overconfident. The Sharks nearly blew a 3-0 lead two years ago in a semifinals series against the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit forced a Game 7, but the Sharks survived in a 3-2 win. That same year, Vancouver won its first three games against the Chicago Blackhawks in a first-round series that didn't end until the Canucks won Game 7 in double overtime.
"It's going to be the toughest game," Niemi said. "They're going to put out their best effort, so we got to be ready and we got to go to our next level."
Pavelski gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead with a goal in the first period and one in the second. He ignited memories of his playoff exploits earlier in his career. He had nine goals and eight assists in 15 postseason games in 2010 when the Sharks reached the Western Conference Finals against the Blackhawks. In one five-game stretch he had eight goals and five assists, scoring twice in three straight games. The next year, he had five goals and five assists in 18.
Pavelski entered the playoffs this year with 20 goals and 21 assists in his postseason career, but went scoreless last year in five games against the St. Louis Blues. He already has two goals and four assists this year against the Canucks.
Pavelski, though, refused to look too far ahead.
"A lot of confidence, a lot of humbleness," he said of the Sharks. "We know how good a team they are. They've been in positions like these before. We know we're going to see their best game. We're going to bring that same kind of attitude, that desperate playoff hockey that we have to. It's another game. That's the bottom line. We have to try to get this fourth win."
The Sharks went 0-for-5 on the power play in Game 2, but Pavelski capitalized on a 5-on-3 advantage to give San Jose a 1-0 lead at 14:08 of the first.
Canucks wing Dale Weise went to the penalty box at 12:40 for roughing, and Hamhuis joined him 24 seconds later for slashing.
Thornton patiently controlled the puck in the right circle then threaded a pass to Couture in the slot. Couture sent the puck to Pavelski, just left of the crease, and he beat Schneider with a one-timer that went just under the crossbar.
"We punished them on the power play," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "That was the difference."
The Canucks, who juggled their bottom three lines, had their chances to score in the first period, but Niemi stopped all 14 shots he faced. The Sharks killed both of Vancouver's power plays.
Vancouver outshot the Sharks 14-13 in a high-paced, chippy first period, but San Jose owned a 1-0 lead at the intermission.
The Sharks made it 2-0 at 7:20 of the second period when Pavelski scored his second goal, redirecting a shot from Tommy Wingels. From along the right boards, Wingels sent the puck toward the net. As Pavelski glided past the crease to Schneider's left, he reached back, got his stick on the puck and sent it into the net, to the far side.
The Canucks answered with their first goal at 11:07 of the second when Burrows beat Niemi from the left circle. Henrik Sedin took a long pass from Daniel Sedin, then hit Burrows with a cross-ice pass from the right circle. Burrows did the rest, elevating a shot past Niemi.
"We felt like we were in it, down 2-1 going into the third period," Canucks forward Derek Roy said. "We felt good about ourselves and then it's the power play again, and before we know it we're down 4-1. We have to stay out of the penalty box."
Thornton actually had a great chance to increase San Jose's lead late in the second when he took a long outlet pass and headed on a breakaway. But just as he shot from the low slot, Canucks forward Jannik Hansen cross-checked Thornton from behind, sending him to the ice and hard into the boards as the puck went wide.
Hansen received a two-minute penalty and the Sharks opened the third period with 1:46 still left on their power play. Couture scored early in the third, and the rout was on.
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