VANCOUVER – After losing the Western Conference Final to the Vancouver Canucks on a crazy bounce off a stanchion in double overtime two years ago, the San Jose Sharks were overdue for a good bounce or two in Vancouver.
Dan Boyle made sure not to waste the first one that hopped onto his stick.
The Sharks' defenseman jumped in from the point and helped San Jose jump out to an early lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, pinching down to score the go-ahead goal with 9:17 into the third period en route to a 3-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday.
"The hockey gods were with me on that one," Boyle said.
Logan Couture tied it late in the second period and then set up Patrick Marleau's insurance with 5:23 left. But the game turned when Boyle was left with a wide-open net after Roberto Luongo couldn't cover a jam play on his blocker side, setting off a scramble with four Canucks gathered around their own net. None picked up Boyle, and the puck squirted loose to him for an easy tap-in.
"It could have gone any other direction off their foward's skate," Boyle said. "It found its way through and I had pretty much an open net."
Antti Niemi finished with 29 saves for the Sharks, beaten only by teammate Raffi Torres during a scramble in his crease. It was one of the few times that the Canucks got enough bodies in front of the San Jose goaltender.
"We played a really compact D zone; we didn't give too much," Niemi said. "We were able to keep them out of the front."
Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa was credited with the opening goal on a wild flurry with 7:34 left in the second period, and it seemed to spark a brief surge that included a sharp-angle Daniel Sedin shot off the cross bar. But Couture tied it with a perfect power play wrist shot four minutes later, and Vancouver got eight shots in the third period.
"It's not like we got shelled in the third," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "That being said, the only goal we scored they pushed into their net. We have to be better."
The Canucks, who have now lost five straight playoff games at home dating back to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, host Game 2 on Friday at Rogers Arena before the best-of-7 series shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.
If there's a common theme among the home losses, it's a lack of offense.
Vancouver struggled to score in an opening-round, five-game exit against the Los Angeles Kings last season, and only generated a handful of good chances on Wednesday.
"There was some good moments as far as sticking with the way we want to play, playing fast and getting pucks behind their Ds and trying to wearing them down, but I think – I don't think, I know – our guys have better," Vigneault said. "I know our top guys can play better than they did tonight, and we have to."
Vigneault wasn't offering up any criticism of Luongo, who got the start because No. 1 goalie Cory Schneider wasn't quite ready to come back from an unidentified "body" injury that kept him out the final two regular-season games. Luongo, who finished with 25 saves, was brilliant early, and didn't have much chance on the first two goals, but gave the puck away to start the sequence that led to the third, which ended with Marleau alone in front for a quick, low shot.
"Louie played great early on," San Jose captain Joe Thornton said of Luongo. "He made some great saves on the first power play, but we just stayed calm and kept going. We have some goal scorers that can finish. They did that tonight. It was a good effort to stay relaxed and wait for our chances to go in."
Luongo was at his best during an early San Jose power play that produced seven shots and a handful of point-blank scoring chances. He threw out the left pad to deny Marleau on a one-timer from the low slot, then stretched across with the right leg to rob Martin Havlat of an empty-net chance on a long rebound.
"It gave me a good rhythm for the rest of the game" Luongo said. "But obviously when you end up losing, you always want to find a way to do more."
Havlat, playing on a second line with Couture and Marleau, left with nine minutes left in the period due to an undisclosed injury and didn't return, forcing the Sharks to juggle lines.
McLellan did not have an update on Havlat after the game.
Jannik Hansen was originally credited for the opening goal after a wild scramble that started with his blind backhand drop pass to Bieksa for a one-timer. Niemi stopped that, and robbed Mason Raymond with his right pad on the rebound in tight, but it set off a wild scramble that ended with former Canucks forward Torres sliding the puck back to – and under – his own goaltender.
It was Vancouver's first lead against San Jose this season after dropping all three meetings in the regular season, but it didn't last long.
Couture tied it on a power play with 3:25 left in the period after taking a punch that earned Zack Kassian a roughing penalty. The Sharks, who pelted Luongo with seven shots on their first advantage, wasted little time converting their third power play, moving it around easily until finding Couture alone atop the left faceoff circle for a wrist shot past the blocker of a screened Luongo.
"It's always nice to score when the penalty is taken on you," Couture said. "He left some space on the short side. I put it where I wanted to."