San Jose Sharks locked up at least the seventh seed in the Western Conference Playoffs via their dramatic 5-4 overtime victory against the Vancouver Canucks. Joe Thornton had the primary assist on four of the Sharks five goals, including the overtime winner by Christian Ehrhoff.
The evening started out strong for Team Teal as they controlled the opening five minutes. Their best offensive opportunity passed when Ville Nieminen just missed on a point blank shot from the side of Alex Auld's crease.
Vancouver would make the first dent in the scoreboard when they took advantage of a Josh Gorges penalty to score on the power play. Mattias Ohlund fired one on Vesa Toskala, but just as he was about to make the save, Daniel Sedin reached in and deflected the puck in for the 1-0 lead.
Following that power play, the Canucks would get three more successive calls go their way before the game was 10 minutes old. The first was extinguished by the Sharks, however, on a five-on-three, Markus Naslund was able to make the score 2-0.
With three minutes remaining in the first, the Sharks looked like they would need to regroup at the intermission, but Joe Thornton
thought otherwise, setting up two late tallies. The first one came when he laced a pass from behind the goal line to Grant Stevenson near the far blueline. The rookie forward skated in on Auld and pulled San Jose within one.
Then Todd Bertuzzi held up Marcel Goc entering the offensive zone and the Sharks power play took center stage. On the possession, Thornton set up Nils Ekman on the doorstep and he deposited the puck across the line to tie the contest and take the air out of GM Place.
When the second would begin, San Jose would start on the power play for more than a minute, but could not take their first lead of the night.
A two-on-one Canucks rush was stifled by Vesa Toskala early in the second and Auld was up to the task on the other end with a Cheechoo shot.
The Sharks would be the club to strike next though just eight minutes into the period. Captain Patrick Marleau
made a strong move to carry the zone on a three-on-two rush. He dropped a pass to Milan Michalek to started a give-and-go with Steve Bernier. When Bernier returned the puck, the net was wide open and Michalek knocked in the puck to give San Jose their first lead.
Vancouver was fighting for their playoff lives and would not roll over. Just seven seconds into a power play, Daniel Sedin redirected a Henrik Sedin shot and the game was tied at three. The tally motivated the Canucks, who began controlling play around Toskala, but Team Teal would hold off the Vancouver rally and the second period ended at three apiece.
The Canucks would retake the lead in the see-saw battle during the third period. A seemingly harmless wrister from the point bounced off either Josh Gorges, or a Canucks forward, and the Sharks were looking at a one-goal deficit with 12 minutes remaining.
With less than eight minutes left in regulation, Vancouver clearly benefited from one whistle and a no call. As San Jose began a power play, Cheechoo drove the net looking for the tying goal. He was pushed by Sedin from behind into Auld, but Cheechoo was given the two minutes. During four-on-four time, Toskala was knocked down on the other end and there was no penalty on what could have been a four-on-three Sharks advantage.
San Jose would not let the anything deter them, including a snow-angel save by Auld that prevented Michalek's second tally on the night. Richmond, B.C. native Scott Hannan would find the equalizer with less than five minutes left. Thornton circled behind the net and centered Hannan dropping down. Four Canucks were in the slot looking to block the shot, but all they did was screen their own netminder and Hannan tucked his wrister inside the right post to force overtime.
The extra period did not last long as just 30 second in, Thornton set up a fourth tally. The big center grabbed the puck behind Toskala and skated all the way up ice, drawing two of the Canucks four skaters with him. Ehrhoff dropped down to the slot, took the perfect feed and went top shelf on Auld for the victory.
The Sharks will play Vancouver in the second game of the home-and-home series tomorrow night at HP Pavilion. Limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Box Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be aired on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.