The San Jose Sharks hung on for a desperately needed win, beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 on Friday to reduce their deficit in the Western Conference Finals to 2-1.
Patrick Marleau scored twice in the first period, while Antti Niemi made 27 saves as the Sharks capitalized on 10 power-play chances.
“We realize how important tonight was,” captain Joe Thornton said. “We realize what’s at stake. The guys showed up and the fans were into it. They gave us an extra boost.”
Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle also scored, while Thornton had three assists for the Sharks, who won a conference final game on home ice for the first time in franchise history.
San Jose looked like a completely different team than the one that was outscored 10-5 in losing the first two games of the series in Vancouver. The Sharks scored three times in the first period and had 15 of the first 16 shots on goal to snap an eight-game losing streak in the conference finals, including a sweep last year to Chicago.
“The last two have not been anywhere near par for our group,” coach Todd McLellan said. “So it was nice to see us return to the way we can play.”
Game 4 is today in San Jose.
Vancouver nearly rallied from a three-goal deficit thanks to a five-minute boarding call that led to power-play goals from Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa to cut San Jose’s lead to 4-3 with 3 minutes, 56 seconds remaining. Alexandre Burrows had also scored in the period.
However, the Canucks could not get the equalizer as they were hurt by a late penalty by Bieksa — his third of the game. That gave the Sharks their 10th power play, something that upset Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.
“We were pretty disciplined,” Vigneault said. “So if I were to comment on what I think of the penalties, I’d get a pretty big fine. So I’m going to save my money.”
Vigneault has bigger concerns with the status of two of his defensemen in doubt. Both Aaron Rome and Christian Ehrhoff could miss Game 4 because of injuries after taking hits from Jamie McGinn. McGinn also could be suspended after getting his second game misconduct of the playoffs.
Urged on by their boisterous fans, the Sharks responded from the two losses in Vancouver with a dominant first period led by a dangerous power-play unit and strong play from Thornton’s line against the Sedin twins.
After being done in by committing too many penalties in Game 2, the Sharks took advantage of a couple of early calls against the Canucks to seize control early. With Maxim Lapierre in the penalty box for roughing, Thornton threaded a perfect pass from behind the net to Marleau, who poked the puck through Roberto Luongo’s pads less than 4 minutes in to score in his fourth straight game.
Then, with Ehrhoff serving a double-minor for high-sticking, Clowe knocked a rebound of Boyle’s point shot past Luongo to make it 2-0 before the midpoint of the period.
Vancouver managed to kill off the second minor, but fell even further behind when Marleau blocked Alexander Edler’s point shot and then took a feed from Thornton to go in alone to make it 3-0.
Marleau has five goals in four games after failing to post a point in the first six games against Detroit.
The turnaround came shortly after former teammate Jeremy Roenick called him “gutless” on national television.
The Sharks maintained the three-goal lead even when the Canucks applied some late pressure, with Niemi making two tough stops against Jannik Hansen in the closing minute of the first period.