By Allan Muir
This time it wasn't the goaltender. Or a snake-bitten offense. Or a "so-called Canadian" opponent beguiling the officials with craven attacks on the integrity of the game.
No, by the time the red light went on to signal Patrick Marleau's decisive goal in Game 4, it was clear: the Vancouver Canucks, all of them, just weren't good enough to beat the San Jose Sharks. Not even close.
San Jose's 4-3 overtime win Tuesday night ended a season that, cruelly, lasted just four games more than those played by the Florida Panthers and the Colorado Avalanche and the rest of the dregs of the league. It's a miserable fate for the Northwest division champs, but one they deserved, just as surely as the Sharks deserved to move on to the next round as one of the NHL's elite eight.
Here are some observations from tonight's series clincher:
• On the surface, this game was won on the strength of San Jose's power play. The unit connected three times on seven chances, notably Joe Pavelski's tying goal with just over four minutes remaining in regulation and then Marleau's game-winner at 13:18 of overtime. But really, this game was colored by a cavalcade of idiocy, and not just on the part of the players.
• The last time I saw someone do something this stupid, he was playing for the Charlestown Chiefs:
The Canucks didn't capitalize on the resulting power play opportunity, but the Sharks were clinging to a one-goal lead at the time. No player can be that selfish, especially not a veteran and especially not in that situation. Amazingly, Gomez skated a regular shift the rest of the game.
• The Sharks weren't so lucky when Andrew Desjardins decided to bury Dan Hamhuis well after a whistle midway through the third. The Canucks tied the game on a pretty passing play from Daniel Sedin to Alex Burrows, then rode that momentum to Alex Edler's go-ahead goal just 1:50 later.
• Then, just when it seemed like the Canucks might extend the series to five games, Tommy Wingels was crosschecked viciously by Kevin Bieksa -- no embellishment needed -- putting the Sharks back on the power play and setting up Pavelski for his late-game heroics.
• But the absolute worst decision of the night? That was Kelly Sutherland's boarding call on Daniel Sedin 13:03 into overtime. Two guys battling for the puck, one lays a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on the other and that earns a whistle that leads to Marleau's game winner? It’s not like that penalty turned the series -- the Canucks had long since been fitted for a casket -- but geez, it was just brutal to have it end that way.
Take a look for yourself:
• For every fan who has ever screamed "SHOOT!" at Joe Thornton, this game was for you. Each of the last two goals happened as a result of Jumbo Joe putting the puck directly on net instead of looking for one more pass. On the tying marker, he pumped one into Cory Schneider's pads, creating a rebound that Logan Couture corralled and fed to Pavelski. On the winner, he carried a Dan Boyle feed to the top of the hash marks before blasting away. This shot was mishandled by Schneider and lay in the crease before Marleau tapped it home for his fourth of the playoffs and third career playoff OT winner. Funny what happens when you shoot the puck.
• It's only a matter of time before Alain Vigneault is relieved as coach of the Canucks. There's some thought that his stellar regular-season record will buy him a reprieve, but it is hard to imagine trying to sell the team's frustrated fans on the merits of another year like the last two. Ultimately, his determination to force a grey, defensive scheme on a group whose talents were better suited for a more colorful and creative game was key to his failure.
• Speaking of jobs, should Schneider feel safe and cozy about his future employment? His line in this series after two shaky appearances: a 4.62 GAA and an .880 save percentage. Yes, it's a small sample. And maybe it can be chalked up to the after-effects of his "body injury." But if he's in the game, he has to be ready to go...and he was not.
Ultimately, Schneider is still a younger, cheaper option than Roberto Luongo, but until he gets a shot at redemption next spring, Vancouver fans will be left to wonder if he's a better one.
• Player of the Series: Logan Couture. Speed, intensity, finish and defensive awareness. The kid did it all. No wonder everyone is saying the Sharks are his team now.