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Canucks faced with trying to avoid sweep by Sharks

by Kevin Woodley


(San Jose leads best-of-7 series, 3-0)


Big story: The Vancouver Canucks are reeling and none of the changes -- from switching goalies to mixing lines -- has worked, putting them on the brink of another early exit and back into a goaltending controversy as they try to avoid being eliminated by a San Jose Sharks team that has never swept a Stanley Cup Playoff series.

Only three teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-7 series, and after losing all six to San Jose this season, there's little to suggest the Canucks will add to that. But the Sharks, who almost blew a 3-0 lead before winning Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in 2011, will be wary.

"It's going to be the toughest game," goalie Antti 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.”

Team Scope:

Canucks: The focus will undoubtedly be on the goaltending after Cory Schneider replaced Roberto Luongo in Game 3 despite being out of game action for almost two weeks, and then gave up a soft third goal at a crucial time in the third period, and another nine seconds later, opening the floodgates for a 5-2 loss.

Luongo, who was excellent despite losing the first two games of the best-of-7 series, went back in for mop-up duty after Schneider was pulled, but when asked whether he should start Game 4, said of Schneider, "It's his team."

Despite all attention on the Canucks' crease, the real problems are at the other end, where Vancouver only has five goals through three games against San Jose, and has now scored just 17 while going 2-11 in its last 13 playoff games overall.

While most of the focus will fall on top-line twins Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, who combined to set up Alexandre Burrows in Game 3, the reality is Vancouver has gotten little beyond them for two postseasons now, including lengthy droughts for Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, while NHL Trade Deadline acquisition Derek Roy has been mostly invisible.

Meanwhile the Sharks got two goals from their third-line center, Joe Pavelski, to complement the top players.

Sharks: San Jose players were saying all the right things about not resting on their laurels with a 3-0 lead against the Canucks, but as long as the Sharks' power play remains dominant it's hard to envision Vancouver coming back.

The Sharks scored three power-play goals, including a 5-on-3 to open the scoring, and are now 4-for-17 in this Western Conference Quarterfinal, which also includes a key goal to tie Game 1. They didn't get one in Game 2, but tied it with 55.1 seconds left and goalie Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker.

San Jose also killed off an early 4-on-3 before taking the lead for good on the two-man advantage in the first period of Game 3, and killed six of seven Canucks' power plays. Even when the Sharks don't score with the man advantage, they at least generate momentum, something Vancouver has failed to do. With so little room and scoring 5-on-5, special teams play has been the deciding factor.

"They scored on the power play and they get a lot of momentum from them," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said after taking a bad Game 3 penalty. "They are killing us. Part of winning is staying out of the box and we've got to be calmer."

Who's hot: Logan Couture continued to make his case as the new face of the Sharks with two goals, four points, a couple of key blocked shots, and 15 of 18 faceoffs won in Game 3. With three goals and six points in the series, Couture tops a list of hot Sharks that also includes Patrick Marleau (three goals) and Joe Pavelski (two goals and four assists).

Injury report: Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev (ankle) made the trip to San Jose, but is still in a walking boot and doubtful to return. … Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, who has missed the first three games, was expected to be back in the first round, but now it may not go on long enough. Second-line wing Martin Havlat hasn't played since leaving Game 1 after getting a stick in the groin from Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa and is doubtful for Game 4.

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