The Vancouver Canucks staged a third period comeback to beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Sunday and draw first blood in the NHL Western Conference final series.
Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa and team captain Henrik Sedin beat San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi with goals less than two minutes apart in the final period of a game that saw the Canucks outshoot the Sharks 38 to 29.
San Jose capitalized on -Vancouver mistakes to pull 2-1 ahead, but the Canucks began to find their game at the end of the second period with a series of good chances that had bodies piled around a sprawling Niemi.
Vancouver had five days off after beating Nashville in the last round of the playoffs and center Ryan Kesler told reporters they may have been a bit rusty coming into this contest.
“It’s motivating when you’re not playing your best and you’re still getting chances like that. We just fed off that and as they game went on, we continued to get better and better,” Kesler said.
It took San Jose seven games to beat Detroit to make it to the finals and coach Todd McLellan said his team appeared to tire — first mentally, then physically — which led to mistakes in handling the puck.
“It started between the ears and made its way through to the body. We were like dogs chasing cars on a freeway, we just weren’t catching anybody,” McLellan said.
The Sharks got on the scoreboard first, when captain Joe Thornton scooped up an errant pass by Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo and landed an easy score with a minute left of the opening period.
Maxim Lapierre netted Vancouver’s opening goal in the second period, the first of the playoffs for the hard-hitting center. Patrick Marleau then redirected a powerplay shot by Dan Boyle to put the Sharks back ahead at 08:44 in the second.
Henrik Sedin and his twin brother teammate Daniel have struggled so far in the playoffs and coach Alain Vigneault said they know the pressure is on to step-up — which Henrik did in the closing stages.
First he assisted on Bieksa’s goal, before backhanding the winner on a powerplay midway through the final period.
Both teams came in to the finals haunted by the demons of past playoff collapses and neither has ever won the Stanley Cup. They meet for Game 2 of the best-of-seven series tomorrow in Vancouver.