The Vancouver Canucks are returning to the Stanley Cup Final 17 years to the day Greg Adams heroically lifted the Canucks past the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of the 1994 Western Conference Final.
In Game 5 versus the San Jose Sharks in this year's Western Conference Final, Kevin Bieksa was the saviour with a double overtime goal to give the Canucks a 3-2 win, and can you believe it, Vancouver will play for the Stanley Cup for the third time in team history.
It’s so nice, I’ll say it twice: Vancouver will play for the Stanley Cup for the third time in team history.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Bieksa, mobbed by media, sporting a fancy new Western Conference Champions hat.
“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/eight years working towards something special, and we have a huge opportunity ahead of us now.”
The golden goal was about as strange as they come. Midway through the second overtime, Alex Edler shot the puck into the Sharks zone from 10 feet past the blueline. The puck hit the partition and while nine skaters and Antti Niemi were searching for it behind the San Jose net, the puck kicked out to Bieksa at the point and he wired a low one-timer past Niemi.
Bieksa’s first career overtime game-winner was “an ugly goal, but we’ll definitely take it.”
“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t flub it into the corner, I had to put it somewhere on net and luckily it got there, barely. A couple of bounces; if it was maybe a couple of minutes later in the period and there was more snow on the ice, it might not have gotten there.”
The puck did get there, sneaking past Niemi’s left skate as a domino effect of cheering broke out on the ice, in the stands and throughout the street of Vancouver.
Throwing his hands in the air, Bieksa yelled: “Let’s go to the Cup, baby!”
As blue and green streamers then filled Rogers Arena and pandemonium ensued.
Rewind back to the late stages of the third period, with less than 30 seconds to play to be precise, and it looked like a Game 6 would be played with the Sharks leading the Canucks 2-1.
Off a faceoff win by Ryan Kesler with 28 seconds remaining, Henrik Sedin threw the puck towards the goal and Kesler was there to knock it home with 13.8 to play.
Alex Burrows scored the other Canucks goal, he also assisted on the game-winner with Edler, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for three assists.
Vancouver was 0-for-1 on the power play; San Jose finished 1-for-4.
Roberto Luongo was put to the test and this A+ Mama Luongo will have on the fridge for a while.
Luongo recorded 54 saves, including 20 in overtime, to allow the Canucks to comeback in dramatic fashion. Only twice before has Luongo faced more than 54 shots in the post-season; he was peppered with 76 shots in his first career playoff game in Vancouver.
That puck stopping know-how served him well, but it didn’t mean as much as his days with the Florida Panthers.
“Every time he gets 50 shots, he’s pretty good,” smiled Alex Burrows.
“Those are the old Florida days and he’s got a lot of experience with that. He was unbelievable tonight, made some big saves and played with confidence.”
Luongo stopped 34 of 36 shots through regulation, seven from Joe Thornton, six from Logan Couture and another six from Dany Heatley.
When the Canucks needed the Vezina nominated keeper, he was there, as he’s been all playoffs.
“They were very good, they came out and you could tell they wanted to win this one,” said Bieksa. “We were resilient again, got a goal at the end of the period to bring it to overtime and we just grinded one out.
“Lu was big when we needed him too, they peppered us with a lot of shots and put a lot of pucks on us, but Lu stood on his head and bought us enough time to get one.”