SAN JOSE — It was about winning any way to play another day.
Backed by the superlative goaltending of Cory Schneider and third-period goals by Alex Burrows and Alex Edler, the Vancouver Canucks appeared ready to take a bold step away from the playoff ledge that wouldn't plunge them into an early offseason of criticism and change.
A victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday — the first in the Western Conference quarterfinal series and the first this season — was less than five minutes away when elements that have defined the matchup came into play. Kevin Bieksa took a cross-checking penalty, the vaunted Sharks power play went to work and Joe Pavelski's backhander atthe side of the net, his fifth goal of the series, forced overtime.
The issue was finally settled when Patrick Marleau scored on the power play at 13:18 to provide the 4-3 decision with Daniel Sedin sent off for boarding on what appeared to be a clean heavy check on Tommy Wingels. It came after Schneider stopped Marleau, Dan Boyle, Scott Hannan and Logan Couture hit the post in the extra session. It made the questionable penalty only harder to stomach or comment on.
"I don't know if I should right now — but it's a bullsh-t call," said captain Henrik Sedin. "I think it was shoulder-to-shoulder. We've got to keep working the referees like we do every year and we're going to get some calls in the future. We're not getting them now. We're going to get the benefit of the doubt sometimes.
"We showed up and played the way we should have for one game. This is the way we've got to play. We showed we're a great team and again penalties cost us the game."
The Sharks scored three power-play goals and seven in the series.
"We didn't play good enough to win the series," said Bieksa. "We just didn't get the job done. I'm not going to complain because the series is over, but both those calls were tough calls for me. They felt they were penalties and they were tough calls. Two guys battling on the wall and one goes hard into the boards. You see that every 30 seconds in the St. Louis- L.A. series, but we put ourselves in this situation.
"One bad call cost us the game."
It was looking like a snapshot of a season gone awry when Daniel Sedin put a Jannik Hansen rebound off the far post early in the third period while staring at nothing but net and the Canucks staring at a 2-1 deficit. Hansen was then hurt on a hit by Raffi Torres. But they didn't go quietly into the night and pressed the issue until Burrows took a backhand feed from Daniel Sedin in the crease and flipped it past Niemi at 9:12 to make it 2-2. Less than two minutes later, Edler unloaded a heavy snapshot from the point. The flurry was more encouraging than a bad first-period scurry by Derek Roy.
The centre's long cross-ice dash to take a needless boarding penalty against Brad Stuart swung momentum in what was a 1-1 struggle. Pavelski's spin-a-rama power-play effort in the slot off a rebound just eight seconds later only further illustrated the mismatch down the middle. The Sharks had Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Pavelski. The Canucks had Henrik Sedin, Roy and Max Lapierre when Ryan Kesler was pushed to the wing. But that didn't matter Tuesday because they all showed up to play.
The Canucks pushed back harder in Game 4 because of better balance and familiarity in their first three lines to start the night. Zack Kassian with Henrik and Daniel Sedin was decent and Ryan Kesler between Mason Raymond and Burrows was better. Roy with Chris Higgins and Hansen at least had some potential. And when Hansen aligned with the twins in the third period, there was a consistency of effort that had long been lacking.
A Burns deflection in the slot of a Scott Hannan wrist shot from the point — with Galiardi providing a partial screen — opened scoring at 2:41 of the first period. And when the Sharks kept coming Schneider had to make a power-play save off Torres before a Mason Raymond floater from the point hit Brad Stuart and found the net. The goal injected some life into the Canucks. Kesler drew a hooking minor and Raymond then forced Niemi to make a tough right pad save on the power play. Still, the great saves weren't enough.
A four-minute Sharks power play in the second period was crucial. Schneider foiled T.J. Galiardi, stopped two backhand attempts in tight off Raffi Torres and then dove across to stop Burns off a rebound kept the Sharks from building on a 2-1 lead. But even that wasn't enough.
"Very disappointing," summed up Henrik Sedin. "Last year, was a different feeling. We played a good team and they were very hard-fought games. We have to battle like this every night."
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