In a rematch of last night’s playoff clinching victory, the San Jose Sharks returned home to take on the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night at HP Pavilion. The Sharks battled back on three different occasions and took their first lead of the game late in the third period as they defeated the Canucks by the final score of 5-3.
Evgeni Nabokov returned to the net for the first time in eight games, while Alex Auld opposed him at the other end of the ice looking to keep Vancouver’s playoff hopes alive.
Ed Jovanovski put the desperate Canucks on the board first. Todd Bertuzzi pulled the faceoff back and the big Canuck winger powered it toward the net. Alexandre Burrows was flying in front of Nabokov to screen the Sharks netminder.
San Jose looked to even things on a five-on-three in the first half of the period, but some strong saves by Auld prevented the Sharks opening tally. On an ensuing power play San Jose tied the game as Nils Ekman redirected a pass into the net. After hitting his stick it bounced off his skate, sending the play upstairs. The on-ice ruling was a goal and there wasn’t enough video evidence to rule Ekman making a distinct kicking motion.
That would conclude the first period scoring – thanks to a miracle save by Auld on Marleau with just seconds remaining in the period – but San Jose would carry 21 seconds of four-on-three time into the second period.
The second began with the four-on-three and the ensuing five-on-four going without a tally. Then when the Canucks took to the advantage, they struck pay dirt. Bertuzzi began driving the net and while his shot was going just wide, Brendan Morrison was there to deflect it home. Unfortunately for Vancouver, Edmonton had just beaten Anaheim moments earlier to eliminate the Canucks from playoff contention. Vancouver could still hurt the Sharks playoff seeding with a victory and looked to play the spoiler role.
Nabokov made a stellar stop on a second Canucks power play during the period to keep San Jose within one. On the sequence, two Sharks defenders collided in front of the net, essentially forcing Nabokov to face to open shooters. He squared to the puck and turned away the shot. The power play expired without any more damage.
Midway through the frame, Sean Brown hooked Ekman and the Sharks headed back on the power play. Just 44 seconds into the advantage Cheechoo added his 52nd goal of the season. Tom Preissing sent a slapshot on goal that went just wide of the net. Cheechoo was crashing the net and found the puck as it came back off the end board in front of Auld and with one hand on his stick he tipped it past the netminder.
On the ensuing play, the Sharks earned yet another power play after Brendan Morrison hooked Marleau as he was heading in on a breakaway. But the Sharks couldn’t capitalize this time and the game went back to five-a-side.
With 3:11 left in the second Ekman was penalized for hooking and Vancouver would make them pay. Bertuzzi was able to go five-hole after a loose puck left Nabokov defenseless. The Canucks now led 3-2.
The first shift after the Vancouver goal, the Canucks again put pressure on the Sharks as they attacked the San Jose net. The Sharks made a strong stand defensively and got the puck to center. Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff brought the puck through the neutral zone and found Marleau on Vancouver’s half boards. After Ehrhoff dished the puck to Marleau, he crashed the Vancouver net and was interfered with by Canucks defenseman Keith Carney. The Sharks were headed back on the power play.
The Sharks began their ninth power play of the game with 1:39 remaining in the second. The Sharks managed to keep the puck in the Vancouver zone, but the Canucks diffused most of the pressure. As the second period came to a close, the Sharks maintained pressure in the Vancouver zone, but were unable to muster a shot.
As they did in the second period, the Sharks began the third period with 21 seconds remaining on the power play. The Canucks were able to kill the Sharks brief time with the man advantage with relative ease.
The two teams would play cautiously on both sides of the puck for a couple of minutes when, with 15:24 remaining in the third, an innocent turnover by the Canucks at their line would spring the Sharks.
Kyle McLaren picked off a pass just on the Vancouver side of the red line and quickly moved the puck to Marcel Goc. Goc made a strong play and then a tape-to-tape pass, finding a streaking Ville Nieminen. As Nieminen moved through the zone, he cut inside the defenseman and headed towards the net. He then made a move to the center of the net and beat Alex Auld on the short side to tie the game.
The two teams each spent a shift on the attack in the other team’s zone. While Vancouver was able to diffuse the pressure, the Sharks were not as fortunate. After making a smart defensive play to get the puck, Sharks defenseman Matt Carle shot the puck over the glass and received a penalty for delay of game.
During the ensuing Vancouver power play, the Sharks cleared the puck to center and Joe Thornton picked up the puck and went one-on-two into the Vancouver zone. As Thornton drove to the net, he beat both Canucks defenders and hit the post on his shot. His efforts drew a holding penalty on Vancouver’s Mattias Ohlund.
After some four-on-four time, Matt Carle exited the penalty box, and joined the rush. As he did twice in last night’s contest, Joe Thornton found the trailing defenseman and Carle buried the puck over Auld’s right shoulder with 8:26 remaining. The Sharks led 4-3, their first lead of the game.
With less than five minutes remaining in regulation, Patrick Marleau broke in on Auld, but he was knocked down from behind without getting a shot off.
With 1:26 left in the contest the Canucks pulled Auld in favor of the extra attacker. Vancouver needed another goal in order to save their season, but an empty net goal by Cheechoo with 16 seconds put an end to that and the Sharks skated off with the 5-3 victory.