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The Unwanted Hat Trick

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
The Vancouver Canucks scored just one goal in a 5-on-3 during the entire 2010-11 regular season. That goal was scored in the team’s 78th game on March 31 against Los Angeles.

In almost two minutes of the second period of Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks tripled their 5-on-3 scoring output for the entire 82-game schedule. Thanks to those three goals, the Canucks won, 4-2, and took a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.

Not only did those three goals help the Canucks win the game, it was the first time a team recorded a hat trick in 5-on-3 goals in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Goal No. 1 came after Dany Heatley was called for a high stick on Cody Hodgson at 8:15 and then Torrey Mitchell was whistled for a hooking penalty on Daniel Sedin 50 seconds later. “It was a stupid penalty,” Mitchell said. “It was as simple as that.”

Then at 9:16, the Canucks got their first 5-on-3 goal. Sami Salo got the puck on top and fed Ryan Kesler, who was all alone in the left faceoff circle and put a one-timer past Niemi. In fact, it was Kesler who scored the Canucks lone 5-on-3 goal during the regular season.

With Mitchell still in the box, the Sharks were called for too many men on the ice at 10:39. The officials pointed the finger at Logan Couture for being the sixth skater. “I thought Patty (Marleau) came off the ice,” Couture said. “I thought he was off and I jumped on. I didn’t think it was a penalty, but I’d have to see it on tape to make sure.”

Vancouver’s second 5-on-3 goal came 16 seconds later when Henrik Sedin passed the puck from the right faceoff circle to Salo on top and his slapper went by Niemi.

San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray (3) battles against Vancouver Canucks left wing Christopher Higgins (20) during the second period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The Sharks were still a man down when Douglas Murray got called for delay of game at 11:01. “I shot the puck over the glass,” Murray said. “It can’t happen. It’s no excuse.”

And the Canucks capitalized. Once again, Henrik Sedin was in the right faceoff circle and he passed the puck to Salo, who started at the right point, skated just behind the Sharks blueline and then set up in the left high slot for another one-timer, his second goal of the game and the third of the 5-on-3 goals.

“They made great plays,” said Murray, who was on the ice for the first two 5-on-3 goals. “The first one, they played the rim a couple of times (passes around the top of the Sharks zone between Henrik Sedin and Salo). Salo makes a great play to Kesler. The second one, they made a crisp play again and got it through. They executed.”

Teams do work on defending 5-on-3 situations. However, when a team only has three skaters on the ice, they’re at a big disadvantage. There’s more room for the attacking team to move and pass the puck. And with a talented team like Vancouver, who led the National Hockey League in the power play during the regular season, the opponent has a tough task and no amount of practice can make the defense fool proof.

“It’s 5-on-3,” Murray said. “You can’t cover everything. We know going into a game what a team is trying to do. They did a better job of executing than we did.”

“You want to be able to read those situations and know what’s going to happen,” said Niemi, who faced just 13 shots in the game, three of those coming in the 5-on-3. “We played those situations okay and we were trying to block shots and we just couldn’t get those.”

Coach Todd McLellan wasn’t too thrilled with the penalties committed by the Sharks, but he’s not blaming the referees for the second period Sharks parade to the penalty box.

“I didn’t like the penalties that originated,” McLellan said. “Heater’s penalty, a turnover at the line, and we take the hook. Mitchy’s penalty was one where he reached in. It’s hard to argue the too many men on the ice penalty and it’s certainly hard to argue the shooting the puck out of the play. And it snowballed from there. In two-and-a-half minutes, we kept marching to the box and they kept scoring.

“I can’t sit here and whine and bitch about the officiating,” McLellan added. “It had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was the team in white that created that mess.”

And now it’s up to the Sharks in Game 5 to clean up the mess so they can play one more home game in this series.

If the Sharks can smile about anything from Game 4, they can be pleased with their third period. San Jose outshot the Canucks, 17-3, and got goals from Ryane Clowe (his second straight in the series) and the first playoff tally by rookie Andrew Desjardins.

San Jose Sharks left wing Jamie McGinn (64) celebrates after right wing Ryane Clowe, not shown, scored against Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (1) and defenseman Keith Ballard (4) during the third period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals on Sunday, May 22, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. The Canucks defeated the Sharks 4-2 and lead the series 3-1. (AP Pho
McLellan did notice the improved play in the final period, but acknowledged that those three 5-on-3 goals, did plenty damage. “We started to play and we (were sharper),” McLellan said. “We threw everything we had at them, but you’re not giving up three 5-on-3 power play goals against that team and coming back. It’s just not happening.”

Based on current events, McLellan said he doesn’t have to say much to his players about Tuesday’s Game 5. “There’s probably not a lot to tell them,” McLellan said. “Their backs are against the wall as hard as they can be. We layed it on the line (in the third) and we’ll be looking to do that in Vancouver.”

McLellan is also hoping for a better performance from Heatley, who hasn’t scored a goal in his last seven postseason games. “Like a lot of our players, we expect a little bit more from him,” McLellan said. “I think he has to find a way to put himself in a better position on the ice to score. We’ll get that from him in Game 5.”

Finally, the Sharks were without Joe Thornton for part of the third period. He skated just 4:18 in the final frame, compared to 7:43 in the first and 6:33 in the second. When asked for a status report on Thornton, McLellan couldn’t provide one and wouldn’t be able to until he got an update.

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