Then, out of nowhere, special teams helped the Canucks nearly complete an improbable comeback in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, a 4-3 win by the San Jose Sharks.
Vancouver now leads the best-of-seven 2-1 with each team having held home court thus far.
The Canucks went into Game 3 Friday night at the HP Pavilion hoping to take a rabid Sharks crowd out of the game early, and instead they gave them a lot to cheer about.
Maxim Lapierre was assessed a roughing penalty 2:03 into the first period, which San Jose converted on to take a 1-0 lead. It was then 2-0 Sharks in a flash with Chrisitian Ehrhoff in the box serving a four-minute hi-sticking double minor.
From bad to worse the game went when San Jose took a dominant 3-0 lead late in the frame, a period that, with five minutes remaining, had San Jose leading in shots 15-1.
Three more Canucks minor penalties in the second period, which Vancouver managed to extinguish, paired with an early goal from Alex Burrows 1:09 into the third, and the Canucks were alive and well.
Vancouver would have been in an even better position had it cashed in on a pair of 5-on-3 power plays in the middle stanza.
Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
Back to the same old early in the third with Burrows, Bieksa and Rome assessed penalties before the 10-minute mark, the latter of which the Sharks used to take a 4-1 lead.
The Canucks, seemingly done like dinner, watched in horror was Rome was hit from behind by Jamie McGinn, who also knocked Ehrhoff out of the game earlier, forcing the blueliner from the game.
That served as Vancouver’s rallying point to sneak two pucks past Antti Niemi, both on the power play, to make the game a nail-biter late.
In the end, it was close, but no cigar.
“When you spend six of the first 10 minutes of the game in the box, against any team in desperation, it’s going to be tough,” said Burrows, who had a team-high seven shots in 22:12 of ice time.
“Obviously we gave them some momentum, they made us pay, they got some goals, but I thought we battled back and as long as we keep executing and battling, we’ll be okay.”
Special teams played a monster roll in Game 3 with the Canucks going 2-for-7 on the power play, while allowing three goals on 10 opportunities agains. That's the most penalties the Canucks have taken since serving eight in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 20, 2010.
Clearly getting into a special teams battle with the Sharks was a mistake on this night and it very well could be in the future as well.
“We’ve got to stay out of the box, 5-on-5 I think we’re the better team,” said Henrik Sedin. “We had a lot of chances to tie it up, but you can’t give up 4-1 leads and think you’re going to come back. We can’t put ourselves in that hole.”
The Canucks don’t have to wait long to dig themselves out of it with Game 4 going down Sunday afternoon in San Jose. It’s a matinee 12 p.m. start at the HP Pavilion.
If there’s a positive to take from Vancouver’s Game 3 loss, it’s that the Canucks outplayed, outworked and pretty much out-everythinged the Sharks over the final 20 minutes.
A loss is a loss, sure, but the tide for Game 4 may have already shifted in Vancouver’s favour.
“We tried to come back, we wanted to come back and maybe force OT, but we came up short,” said Alex Burrows. “If we get on the forecheck and we do the right things and we move the puck the way we can, we’re a tough team to play against. And we did that in the third.”
Shots favoured the Canucks 9-8 in the third, although the Sharks won that battle 38-30. Still, Vancouver can take solace in being the better team late and taking advantage of its power play opportunities.
If only the Canucks could have done something about the clock in Game 3, overtime might have been a part of the story.
“If we had 10 more minutes on the clock, or five more minutes, it felt like we could have gotten something done,” said Kevin Bieksa, who scored his fourth goal of the season in the third period.
“We were pressing at the end, we found our game and we just ran out of time.”
Forget Ben Eager, Jamie McGinn is public enemy number one in Vancouver right now.
The Sharks forward forced Christian Ehrhoff from the game with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit in the first period before taking a run at Aaron Rome from behind midway through the third.
McGinn was assessed a boarding major and a 10-minute misconduct for his hit on Rome, who was down for a few minutes, bleeding, before leaving the ice assisted, but on his own power.
“If I was Aaron Rome, I’d be upset right now,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “I know they got the right call on the ice and we’ll see what happens.”
Rome and/or Ehrhoff missing Game 4 is a distinct possibility, Vigneault added, before biting his lip in regards to Vancouver being assessed 10 penalties on the night.
“We gave that team 10 power plays and I thought we were pretty disciplined. If I were to comment on what I think of the penalties, I’d get a pretty big fine, so I’m going to save my money.”
Alex Bolduc made his Vancouver Canucks playoff debut Friday night, he had two shots and three hits in 4:34 of playing time; San Jose has opened the scoring in every game this series; this win was the first Western Conference Final victory for the Sharks since Game 4 of the 2003 West Final against the Calgary Flames.