In a tale of two games, the Vancouver Canucks came out on top beating the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, Sunday night at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks gave up the game’s first goal, a Joe Thornton strike off a Roberto Luongo broken stick turnover, to trail 1-0 after 20 minutes and despite getting a gritty goal from Maxim Lapierre to even the game 1:49 into the second, the Sharks held court.
Patrick Marleau put San Jose ahead 2-1 with a power play goal midway through the second, which silenced the sellout crowd, but infuriated Vancouver.
The Canucks controlled the final 10 minutes of the middle stanza and carried that over in a dominating third period, a two-goal period for the Canucks en route to a 1-0 series lead.
Kevin Bieksa put the game back on even terms with his second goal of the post-season, a power play marker; Henrik Sedin scored 1:19 later and all of the sudden it was Vancouver’s game to lose.
Lose the Canucks did not.
Displaying composure and confidence in the late stages, the Canucks kept taking it to the Sharks and it helped them win for the first time this playoffs when trailing after 40 minutes.
“Like we’ve always said, we don’t get too down or low no matter what the score is, we stuck with it and got some huge goals in the third period,” said Roberto Luongo, who had 29 saves.
On this night Henrik Sedin played the hero as he scored the game-winner, had an assist, two blocked shots and he won 12 of 17 faceoffs in his most impressive playoff performance this season.
Henrik assisted on Vancouver’s second goal for his 37th career playoff assist, moving him into second for most post-season helpers in franchise history.
Vancouver’s entire first line was scary good as Alex Burrows had an assist and hit Antti Niemi with five shots and Daniel Sedin led the Canucks with six shots.
“Today we played probably our best game of the playoffs,” said Daniel Sedin. “We had the puck more in the offensive zone and we created a lot from those kind of shifts.”
Vancouver’s calm and collected third period was a direct reflection of the Sedins, who have put their workboots on game in and game out all playoffs. The points were scarce against the Nashville Predators, but their hard work paid off in Game 1.
“When the twins get going like that, they’re almost unstoppable,” said Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver’s hits leader with five. “They were generating every shift it seems, they’re getting lots of chances and they could have had three or four tonight, the way they were going. They’re going to be tough to stop.”
The Canucks outshot the Sharks 38-29 and outhit them 38-26, while going 1-for-4 on the power play. San Jose finished 1-for-1 on the man advantage.
Raffi Torres, Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen rarely get style points for their play, but their effectiveness is consistently through the roof.
Their pounding play led to Vancouver’s first goal, a timely score 1:49 into the second period, a period the Canucks eventually took over thanks to their unparalled effort.
On the goal, the third line caused a turnover on the forecheck with Torres chipping a puck to Hansen behind the goal, he then spotted Lapierre streaking through the slot and under Niemi’s pad the puck went before Maxim added some panache to the goal with a Bobby Orr like through-the-air tumble.
It was a big play, one that turned the tides for the Canucks according to, well, everyone.
“It’s energy, battle and compete,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “Those three guys go out there and every shift they lay it on the line. Sometimes it’s maybe not as structured as we’d like it, but you’ve got to let those guys play to their strength and their strength is energy and emotion.”
“I thought our third line was extremely good tonight for the whole game,” added Daniel Sedin. “That’s a huge goal there by Lapierre, that’s why we got started I think.”
Always the perfectionist, Torres said he Lapierre and Hansen weren’t completely pleased with their effort.
“I still think we need to do a better job of taking pucks to the net.”
Winning the first game of the series is important, so say the stats.
Coming into the 2011 NHL Playoffs, teams taking Game 1 hold a record of 383-178 overall in the series, a winning percentage of .693.
Striking first isn’t out of the ordinary for the Canucks as under Alain Vigneault, they are now 8-1 in Game 1 in the playoffs, with this being their seventh consecutive Game 1 win.
Never before had Vancouver hosted Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, but the Canucks are now 3-0 to open Conference Finals.
If all that isn’t enough, the Canucks have opened three series in the same playoffs with a win for just the second time ever, first time since 1982.
Vancouver’s defence combined for 12 shots, the only blueliner without a shot was Alex Edler, who had three shots blocked; Ryan Kesler had an assist to extend his point streak to six games; San Jose has lost seven straight conference final games dating back to 2004.