Canucks ride three power-play goals to a Game 4 victory
There were more injuries to report in Sunday's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals between San Jose and Vancouver, including one to Sharks captain and playoff leading scorer, Joe Thornton. No word yet on the rotator cuffs of referees Kelly Surherland and Eric Furlatt.
The two referees raised their hands more than that brown-nose kid in the front row you used to always hate in school. For a second straight game in which paths to the penalty boxes were carved deep into the ice, the visiting Canucks accomplished something no other team had done in NHL history in their 4-2 victory that gave them a 3-1 series lead.
The Canucks scored three 5-on-3 power-play goals, all in the second period, en route to a win in one of the stranger games in memory. The Canucks can advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1994 with a win in Game 5 at home on Tuesday. But don't go making victory preparations on Robson Street just yet, Canucks fans; Vancouver is 0-2 so far in these playoffs in potential closeout Game 5s at home.
Hockey purists hate it when any game is decided by a 5-on-3 goal. When it's a playoff game, the righteous indignation from the purists goes up 10-fold, and with not one but three such goals in this one? No doubt there will be much Monday-morning quarterbacking of Sutherland's and Furlatt's performance with the whistles in the hockey press.
But there can be no doubting San Jose blew this one. If Sharks coach Todd McLellan had been told before the game, "You'll get the game's first five power plays. Oh, and the Canucks will finish the game with only 13 shots on goal." He probably would have mustered a crescent-shaped move of his mouth.
Instead, the second-period picture of McLellan was of him calling a timeout and launching into a red-faced tirade at his team. Not only were the Sharks moribund on their five power-play chances, they looked -- as McLellan said after his team's Game 2 loss -- like "dogs chasing cars on the freeway."
Vancouver's first power-play unit whirled and twirled its way to three quick 5-on-3, astonishingly all in under two minutes. Ryan Kesler got the fun started at 9:16 with a ripping one-timer over the right shoulder of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, with the help of the first of four assists from Henrik Sedin.
Canucks defenseman Sami Salo, one of the blue-liners coach Alain Vigneault looked to for more offense with Christian Ehrhoff out with an injury, gave it to him in the form of back-to-back goals.
Salo beat Niemi with slappers on helpers from brothers Henrik and Daniel, and suddenly it was a 3-0 game at 11:11.
That's when McLellan blew his stack on the Sharks' bench, but things got no better the rest of the period and into the third. Alex Burrows made it 4-0 at 5:43 of the third, after Henrik put a pass through the 5-hole of Niemi to him for the easy tap-in.
That the Sharks made the final score respectable in the end with two late goals was no consolation to McLellan. After the game, he was still steamed at his team and didn't go there when asked if the zebras were to blame for the loss.
"I can't sit here and whine and bitch about the officiating, because it had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was the team in the white that created that mess," McLellan told reporters from the post-game podium. "You're not giving up three five-on-three power-play goals and coming back on that team, it's just not happening."
These playoffs are going just like last year's for the Sharks; a nice first-round win, a nice second-round win over Detroit but an undisciplined, un-clutch performance in the conference finals.
McLellan saw the danger signs early in Game 4.
"I wish I had the answer. You could see it. We got what we wanted. We got some energy. We got the crowd into it. We earned opportunities on the power-play. You could see the passes. We watched a couple of them. The passing was off. The receiving was off. The timing was off.
There wasn't much rhythm. I have to believe some of that's mental, some of it's physical, a combination of both," he said.
On the Vancouver side of the building, coach Alain Vigneault ran out of praise for his special teams.
"Well, obviously in any hockey game you prepare your power-play and your penalty killing. We killed the penalties that we had to kill at the beginning. I thought that gave us a little bit of momentum and confidence," Vigneault said. "The five-on-threes that we got, one the referee has to call, too many men on the ice, it's obvious. The other one they shot over the glass. Referees didn't really have to make those calls. They're automatics. Five-on-three, (it) did what it was supposed to do."
McLellan said he had no further update on the condition of Thornton, who took a hard hit from Raffi Torres in the third and left for the dressing room, appearing to maybe have hurt the right shoulder.
Neither Sutherland nor Furlatt raised their arms after the hit. Maybe they were too tired.