Canucks ‘took too many penalties,’ failed to unplug Sharks’ power play
‘It was four games of not executing … There’s no way to sugarcoat it’
Kevin Bieksa (centre) cuts a lonely figure, flanked by fellow blueliner Jason Garrison (left) and winger Jannik Hansen (right) after the Vancouver Canucks surrendered a late third-period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final series on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The Sharks went on to defeat the Canucks 4-3 in overtime to sweep the best-of-seven series.
Photograph by: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
SAN JOSE, Calif. — It was pure embellishment. Kevin Bieksa only appeared to be doing everything he could to win.
There were certain things the Vancouver Canucks had to do to beat the San Jose Sharks. Scoring goals was one of those things. And there were things they absolutely had to avoid. Like Bieksa taking a needless cross-checking penalty near the corner, late in the third period when the Canucks were clinging to a lead and their National Hockey League season, against a Sharks team feasting on Vancouver penalty-killing.
Bieksa plays with heart. He competes. He was competing in these playoffs while injured. But shoving Tommy Wingels head-first into the boards was one of the worst decisions of Bieksa's career.
Yeah, referee Chris Lee could have let it go. Just like Kelly Sutherland, the Richmond referee regarded as one of the league's best, should have let go Canuck Daniel Sedin's perfectly legal shoulder-to-shoulder check in overtime.
But this is the NHL. If you give referees the chance to decide a game, they often do.
Only Monday, Bieksa accused Sharks stars Logan Couture and Joe Thornton of embellishment, faking to draw penalties.
And, yes, Wingels went down easy on Bieksa's check. But then so did the Canucks.
They gave up the tying goal on the power play to Joe Pavelski, set up by the co-accused Couture and Thornton, then lost 4-3 on a weak overtime goal on yet another power play as the Canucks were swept in four games from the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
San Jose's power play scored seven times in the series. Vancouver scored eight times in total. The last thing the Canucks needed was for Bieksa or anyone else give the Sharks an unearned power play.
There were quite a few of those. Power plays were 24-10 in the series. You cannot overcome that disadvantage.
Bieksa appeared to argue with Lee that he had merely shoved Wingels in the back. But when you shove with your stick, across the shoulder blades of a player waiting for contact, you usually get penalized.
What was Bieksa thinking?
“It doesn't really matter at this point what my thoughts were on that play,” Bieksa said. “It's tough to lose a game on the power play. Whether or not we deserved those penalties … both those calls were tough calls. But the series is over. It doesn't matter.”
Sutherland's dubious call, probably made because Wingels was hurt and we know the NHL governs by injury, ultimately decided Game 4. But it was the Canucks' inability to avoid or kill penalties that was the biggest factor in the series.
The day after captain Henrik Sedin insisted the Canucks were playing better than the Sharks at even-strength and implored his team to stop taking penalties, the Sharks' power play went 3-for-7 on Tuesday. The Canucks were 1-for-3.
“At the end, their power play won them the series,” Canucks defenceman Alex Edler said. “We took too many penalties. Their power play scored a lot of goals, and even when they didn't score they got a lot of momentum from it. And when we did kill them, it still took a lot of energy out of us. They just have really good players on their power play.”
The Canucks couldn't stop Pavelski and Thornton and Couture and, in overtime, Patrick Marleau, who ended Vancouver's season on a gift tap-in after goalie Cory Schneider mishandled Thornton's shot, just as he mishandled Thornton's shot on the tying goal.
Schneider allowed nine goals in six-and-a-half periods. Awful.
San Jose goalie Antti Niemi was far better. The Sharks dominated on faceoffs, easily broke through the Canucks' forecheck most shifts, prevented Vancouver from generating sustained pressure, and took advantage of their deeper, bigger lineup. And, of course, they crushed the Canucks on special teams.
“We put ourselves in the situation where one bad call costs you a game,” Bieksa conceded. “It was four games of not executing. This wasn't an isolated incident; we were in a 3-0 hole. We didn't play good enough to win the series. It sucks. There's no way to sugarcoat it.”
Right to the end, Canucks players believed they could become the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.
Players weren't so much disappointed as astonished to be down three-nil. The Sharks were a team they respected, not feared, and they could barely fathom they'd lost three straight playoff games to a team that felt they were outplaying five-on-five.
Were the Canucks behind the Chicago Blackhawks or St. Louis Blues or Los Angeles Kings 3-0, well, they'd be making plans for the rest of the spring. But the Sharks, who finished two points behind them in the regular season and won in regulation only 17 times in 48 games? Being down to that team, the Canucks could scarcely believe.
They were in denial. The series wasn't decided simply by the Sharks' potent power play, fed by Vancouver's lack of discipline and officiating that portioned power-play time as unevenly as you will ever see in a four-game series.
San Jose had far more going for it than that. And Vancouver's mistakes went deeper than its penalty-killing unit.
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