Brad Richardson #15, Darren Archibald #49, Dan Hamhuis #2 and Zack Kassian #9 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate after Richardson scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks.
Photograph by: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Once in a while, as if to show us that no game is gravely important, the hockey gods take over and have some fun.
The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks were powerless to stop their folly Thursday in a game that featured goals bizarre, grotesque and comical. The Canucks, at least, could laugh along with the gods as they beat the Sharks 4-2 to end a nine-game losing streak against their National Hockey League rivals.
And the Canucks deserved this one, too. They were better than Sharks from the opening faceoff, quicker and stronger to pucks and far superior territorially. Vancouver was so good defensively, San Jose generated just 11 shots through two periods and the Sharks' best line was Andrew Desjardins, Tyler Kennedy and Mike Brown.
The Canucks force-fed the Sharks just their second outright loss this season and by doing so caught them in the Pacific Division standings, although San Jose has played two fewer games.
But what this game will be remembered for are the wacky, stunning, hilarious ways pucks found their way into the nets.
It was 1-0 San Jose after 75 seconds, before either team shot the puck on net, as Joe Thornton's tumbling slingshot towards the general area code of the Vancouver goal somehow levitated off the ice and up the back of the netting before ricocheting in off Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo.
Here is how Luongo described it: “It was a rim, first of all. It came off the boards funny, then it started climbing the net. Still no panic at this point. Once it got on top of the net I thought: 'Oh (crap), what's going on here?' I tried to put a glove on it but it kept going, and once it got over the crossbar I was in an awkward position. It's going to make for a good tweet.
“I was sick and tired of being told I get scored on on the first shot every game, so I decided to let one in even before I get a shot on goal just to change things up.”
Later in the five-goal first period, Brown, 35 games removed from his last goal and two teams removed from where he reported for this season, finished a 2-on-0 breakaway after Canuck defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Stanton appeared to skate into quicksand at centre ice.
But the Canucks retook the lead, 3-2, at 18:55 of the opening period when Sharks' defenceman Jason Demers, without pressure, passed a hopping puck into the path of streaking Canuck Alex Burrows. While the Sharks converged on Burrows, Canuck Chris Higgins emerged like a roller-derby jammer from the pack and with one touch flipped the puck over Sharks' goalie Antti Niemi.
“Yeah, all of them,” Higgins said. “It's just kind of this building. It doesn't feel like any other building; it kind of feels like a roller-hockey rink sometimes, the ice isn't always too good. There are some strange bounces every once in a while.”
By the time Bieksa's point shot rocketed into the net off teammate Zack Kassian's foot to make it 4-2 at 5:22 of the second period – causing the goal scorer to simultaneously limp and laugh – we got the sense that this was going to be the Canucks' night.
They hadn't had one of those against the Sharks since Jan. 21, 2012.
“Listen to him complaining over there that his foot's sore,” Bieksa said in the dressing room, nodding towards Kassian. “What does he think? I've got a hard shot. I said: 'What better way to break your foot than with a goal?'”
This wasn't close to the same Canuck team that was outplayed and outscored 4-1, twice, by the Sharks in the first eight days of the season. Nor did anyone expect it to be after another month under new coach John Tortorella.
As San Jose coach Todd McLellan said before the game: “Their coach is a very good coach and he now has had time to implement and work with them as a group and get them to believe. And they do. They play a fast, hard game. They play the way he wants them to play. Their goaltender has been very good. They're an all-around good team right now.”
And they certainly were that Thursday night.
They survived their bad luck, took scoring chances when they came, and defended terrifically against a dangerous, talented team for the final 35 minutes. Luongo was excellent, making 22 saves.
“It's nice to get rid of this nine-game slump,” Bieksa said. “Once you guys brought it to our attention, it is embarrassing. There's an element of pride in this dressing room and we certainly don't want to be losing to one team nine times in a row. We played with a little chip on our shoulder tonight and talked about being the hungrier team going out there. We won most of the 50/50 battles.”
And they survived the hockey gods. Next they face Kings, Saturday in Los Angeles.
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