San Jose Sharks #8 Joe Pavelski is buried under Vancouver Canucks #3 Kevin Bieksa,#17 Ryan Kesler and #33 Henrik Sedin in the second period.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann Gerry Kahrmann, PNG
VANCOUVER — It is open season now, for a couple of days at least, on Alain Vigneault, because of course he couldn’t coach more goals.
Two wasn’t enough, they should have got three.
He also couldn’t stop Alex Edler from shooting that puck into Brent Burns’ shin-pads that led to the San Jose Sharks’ winning goal by Raffi Torres in overtime, totally against the tilt of the ice.
And he ought to have been able to teach Roberto Luongo not to let that Patrick Marleau shot squeeze through his five-hole late in regulation time, spoiling what would have been an inspired Vancouver Canucks win.
The coach -- always the easiest of targets and sure to represent the path of least resistance if the owner gets an itchy trigger finger or the general manager has to do the dirty deed out of self-preservation -- finds his hockey club teetering on the brink of another early playoff exit.
The Canucks, down 0-2 in this best-of-seven, are headed for HP Pavilion now, where the Sharks are extraordinarily hard to beat, and if this ended in four, after the effort the Vancouvers wasted Friday, few would be shocked.
And that four would follow the five it took to eliminate them a year ago, and the lost revenues from all those gates that never happened would add up and a guy who’s done little else but win since he’s been here would have to go because ... well, just because.
But if that’s how it goes, for this one night at least, the Canucks showed that they still care, still will play hard for each other, for the uniform, for the town.
They knew their playoff lives depended on a result, and despite the kind of puck luck that afflicts a team that’s pressing too hard, they never gave in to frustration and kept picking away and eventually were rewarded with two Ryan Kesler goals in the third period.
It was the least they deserved.
Down 1-0, having scored a single goal in five periods against a bigger, stronger San Jose Sharks team -- an own-goal at that, whacked in accidentally Torres, who would dramatically balance the books later on -- they were a period away from the very strong possibility of a sweep, a second straight early playoff exit, and a round of teeth-gnashing gloom to rival the aftermath of the Stanley Cup riot of 2011.
And then they finally got their breaks.
Kesler showed up, perhaps not fully in his pre-injury 2011 playoff form but close enough that the rest of the Canucks saw the resemblance and followed him into the fray.
And under real duress for the first time in the series, the Sharks lost their poise.
A silly tripping penalty 39 seconds into the third period to Andrew Desjardins, dumping Canucks’ Alex Edler 190 feet from the Sharks’ net, produced the Vancouver power play that finally clicked -- Kesler snapping a shot from the point that Antti Niemi never saw because he had a grille full of Alex Burrows’ No. 14. And then Kesler, whose primary contribution had been an abundance of muscle and willpower, got a gift from Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski on a botched breakout attempt, and buried the mistake behind Niemi and for the first time in the series the Canucks could see daylight.
Which lasted until, naturally, the Canucks failed to protect the lead in the final minute of regulation.
A few seconds earlier, Jannik Hansen’s shot from centre missed the empty net by six inches, and the Sharks brought it back down the ice and scored.
And that’s kind of the way it’s gone for the Canucks.
All over the Sharks in overtime, they made one mistake and it ended up in the back of the net. And that’s also how it’s gone, for the Canucks and for Luongo, who was terrific again and had no chance on Torres’s winner.
Set to the proper music -- maybe a little Yakety Sax from the Benny Hill Show -- the Canucks’ fruitless attempts to score a goal, if laid end-to-end and speeded up for comic effect, could make a decent skit.
Here’s Burrows zipping one past the far post on a rebound ... here’s Henrik Zedin hitting Justin Braun in the skate with a puck headed for paydirt, when the San Jose Shark defenceman has his back to the play and isn’t even looking ... here’s Jason Garrison loading up and rifling one an inch wide, an inch wide, an inch wide (rinse and repeat) ...
Having managed just 13 goals in their previous 11 playoff games -- nine of them losses -- the Canucks spent their off-day between Games 1 and 2 getting themselves all revved up to get bodies to the net or die trying, to eschew the extra pass and shoot whenever shots presented themselves, to be in Niemi’s face whenever possible, to keep banging away until the bounces just had to start going their way.
And if effort could produce the goals, more goals would have come.
But evidently there are factors bigger than mere effort.
Whether those are Alain Vigneault’s fault may be determined by taller foreheads than ours.
Unlikely. Not impossible.
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