SAN JOSE — If you’re a fan of hockey, Thursday night’s bout between the NorthWest division leading Vancouver Canucks and the Pacific division leading San Jose Sharks is a game not have missed.
What ended up as a 5-4 shootout victory for the NHL leading Canucks was a game that featured nearly as much drama as one might expect from an entire playoff series.
There were power play goals, two different sequences of goals in quick succession, posts, penalty controversies, breakaway saves, near misses, big hits, and a goal scored with an empty net at the opposite end.
“The atmosphere was great, both teams played really good games,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “It was exciting to be a part of.”
Thornton’s Sharks found themselves down 2-0 after the opening period but from then on San Jose carried the play for the next 40 minutes. Vancouver held tough against team teal, keeping them to just two goals until late in the third. In the final 2:13, three goals were scored, two for the Sharks and one for the Canucks sending the game into OT tied at 4-4.
Alexandre Burrows scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Canucks the two points but in the fashion of this game, the extra shootout point holds little value in the essence of what was a game for the ages.
“It’s the shootout, in my opinion the game is basically over,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “We go from a team game to an individual one at that point.”
And that “team” game McLellan referred to ended up being an top echelon caliber game from both sides.
In the first period the Sharks dominated in puck possession for the first few minutes, thanks in part to an early power play but were a bit sloppy with their execution in both the defensive zone and the neutral zone. Once Vancouver went on a power-play of their own at the 5:33 mark, they started to turn the tide in their direction.
Antti Niemi had to come up large on three different dynamite scoring chances as Vancouver’s top ranked power-play showed up as advertised. Thanks to Niemi’s early brilliance, the Sharks were able to kill of the high sticking penalty to Joe Pavelski. Despite the kill, the momentum had clearly shifted towards the Canucks, who carried the majority of the offensive chances through the middle portion of the period where they eventually opened the scoring.
At the 13:25 mark, the Sedin twins teamed up to set up Burrows with his 19th of the year. Daniel Sedin was parked behind the Sharks net and found an open Burrows right in front of Niemi. The pass landed right on the tape of Burrows who roofed into the top-corner, stick-side on Niemi for the 1-0 lead.
While the Sharks appeared to settle back down after the goal, another penalty, this time taken by Dany Heatley put the Sharks back on the penalty kill at the 17:11 mark. This time around, the top ranked power-play wouldnt be denied when Sami Salo’s booming slap shot from the right point beat Niemi to the short side. San Jose was trapped in the far left corner leading to extra space that allowed Salo plenty of room at the right point to launch the one-timer.
The Canucks out-shot San Jose 12-6 in the first but from the Sharks dominated play the rest of the way.
The Sharks came out flying in the second period, scoring two goals in the first 2:04 of the middle stanza, the first by Devin Setoguchi, his 19th, and Ryane Clowe, his 20th.
Setoguchi’s goal came off a nice cross ice zone entry from Thornton and Patrick Marleau and. Setoguchi caught the pass on the right-side and squeaked by the defender to the slot where his original shot hit the far post before scoring on the backhand off his own rebound.
Clowe’s on the other hand came off a lucky bounce to Logan Couture at the offensive blue-line which enabled the rookie to chip a short pass into the zone for a streaking No. 29 in teal. Clowe took the puck down the left wing and put his head down with a power move before finishing the goal off on the back-hand, beating Corey Schneider far-side along the ice.
San Jose nearly made it three goals in quick succession while short-handed when Pavelski’s shot off a 2-on-1 rush hit the post before a rebound chance was denied by Schneider.
A couple of shifts later, Canucks center Ryan Kesler rang a shot off the post through traffic but it lead to a scrambling Sharks squad that couldn’t clear their zone. Subsequently what appeared to be a harmless point shot gone wide rebounded hard off the back boards and right to Vancouver’s Mason Raymond who slid the puck past Niemi who was late sliding across.
But just like that, at 5:38 of the second, the Canucks were back in the lead. Sheer seconds after regaining the lead, the Sedin twins once again set up Burrows for a glorious chance all alone in front of Niemi who somehow came up with the save to keep the deficit at one.
Outside of this short sequence, the second period would continue to be controlled by the Sharks. Brilliant speed and heads up pass from Marleau to Thornton drew a power-play for the Sharks.
During the following man-advantage San Jose registered several scoring chances, but couldn’t find the equalizer. Even after the man advantage came to an end, San Jose’s fourth line of Ben Eager, Andrew Desjardins and Jamal Mayers put together a shift which included a couple dynamite offensive chances.
Schneider continued his masterful ways, however, denying the Sharks time and time again in the second period, most impressive being a save off Setoguchi off a 2-on-1 rush with Thornton but a sprawling pad save kept the score tied.
After 40 minutes the shots were now 25-21 in favor of San Jose as the Sharks peppered Schneider 19 times compared to Vancouver’s nine shots in the middle frame.
The third period would be more of the same. Early in the period the Sharks would be short-handed again with defenseman Niclas Wallin in the box for a cross-check. Fortunately for San Jose, the only real glorious chance on the man-advantage came virtue of Couture, who hit the post on a semi-breakaway at the end of his shift.
Later in the frame, the Sharks got back on the power-play with Aaron Rome in the sin bin for cross-checking at the 12:01 mark. San Jose got more good looks at net, but were all turned away by Schneider and as the power-play came to an end, a poor keep in attempt by defenseman Jason Demers sent former Shark Manny Malhotra the other way for a breakaway against Niemi. A goal here could quite easily have absolutely taken the sails out of the Sharks bench but Niemi shut the five-hole just in time as Malhotra went for the shot between the pads.
Over the course of the next six plus minutes of action, San Jose was absolutely all over Vancouver. Chance after chance after chance went by as the Sharks were controlling the action almost entirely in the offensive zone. Near misses by Marc-Edouard Vlasic right in front of the net and Justin Braun on a breakaway were just a couple of the plays that quite arguably should have been goals.
At this point in the contest, the HP Pavilion was an absolute buzz as the hometown fans were raucously cheering their squad’s magnificent stretch of domination. One could sense it was ony a matter of time before the Sharks would tie the score and that is exactly what happened when Torrey Mitchell deked through four different Canucks before beating Schneider through the five-hole with just over two minutes remaining.
“They gave me a little space in the neutral zone,” Mitchell said. “Just took advantage of it…quick shot and I don’t think Corey was ready for it.”
An unfortunate penalty call 11 seconds later landed Douglas Murray in the box or high stick but the replays showed it was Kesler’s own stick that came up and hit him in the face. Vancouver only needed 11 seconds to re-take the lead when a quick passing sequence allowed Daniel Sedin the ability to walk in and snap a wrist shot top corner glove side with just 1:49 remaining.
Yet San Jose was playing just too good of hockey for that to be the final goal of the game. In the final minute, Thornton drew a penalty on Burrows and the Sharks capitalized on the man-advantage with Niemi pulled for the extra skater. A high-low pass from Heatley to Thornton and then a centering feed to Clowe for the quick re-direct tied the score with just 20 seconds remaining.
Both teams would have a point in the bag as the contest headed to overtime where Schneider denied Clowe on a the most glorious chance of the extra session as the Sharks were on a 4-on-3 power-play but couldn’t come up with a game-winning goal.
They may not have come away with the victory but the Sharks knew they played a great brand of hockey.
“We pumped 50 shots on the first place team overall in the league,” said Ryane Clowe. “You know your doing something right.”