SAN JOSE, Calif. – With the sharp-passing Sedin twins, plenty of players with big shots, and a gold-medal winning goalie, the Vancouver Canucks are tough enough to beat in normal situations. That task becomes nearly impossible when they have two extra skaters on the ice.
The Canucks converted three successive 5-on-3 power plays in a span of less than two minutes during the second period, with Sami Salo scoring twice and Ryan Kesler adding the third, to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-2 on Sunday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to take a 3-1 series lead.
“We kept marching to the box, they kept scoring,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Henrik Sedin helped set up the three goals in a span of 1:55 as the Canucks needed only 37 seconds on the three 5-on-3 situations to become the first team in NHL history to score three goals with a two-man advantage in the playoffs. He added another assist in the third period to set a franchise record for assists in a game, increasing his league-leading total to 19 points this post-season.
“When you give Henrik that much open time, he’s going to find a way to make plays,” teammate Alexandre Burrows said. “We have great shooters on that power play and it’s nice to see them. He’s a magical player the way he’s able to hold on to that puck and make plays.”
Burrows added an even-strength goal off a nifty pass from Henrik Sedin in the third period as the Canucks moved to the brink of reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1994. Daniel Sedin added three assists, and Roberto Luongo made 33 saves.
Vancouver had just 13 shots all game, scoring on four of their seven shots in the final two periods. The Sharks had no answer for the Sedins, who have combined for 15 points in four games this series after having just seven points and a minus-10 rating in six games against Nashville the previous round.
“We’re both believers in if you work hard, you do the right thing, it’s going to turn around,” Henrik said. “You got to hang in there and hope the other guys are playing great. They’ve been doing that. So that’s what we need. We need different guys to step up each series. That’s why we’re here.”
Andrew Desjardins and Ryane Clowe had third-period goals for the Sharks, who failed to capitalize on five early power-play chances and now must win Game 5 in Vancouver on Tuesday night to extend the series.
“They kept giving us chances and putting themselves in a hole,” Clowe said. “When we get PPs, that’s where we need to capitalize. We just weren’t sharp enough. That’s not physical. That’s mental.”
In a series dominated by special teams play, this game was no different with nearly 15 of the first 33 minutes being spent with a team on the power play.
That’s where the Canucks dominated in a turnabout from their 4-3 loss in Game 3. They allowed three power-play goals in that game and failed to convert during 1:55 of 5-on-3 time in the second period.
The Canucks solved both of those issues despite being without injured defencemen Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome. First, they killed off five straight minor penalties to open the game as they spent 10:00 of the first 24:06 short-handed.
The Sharks, who converted their first five power-play chances this series, struggled to set up in the offensive zone with the man advantage Sunday. When they did get into the Vancouver end, Luongo made eight saves on the five power plays and gave San Jose few chances at rebounds.
“The passing was off. The receiving was off. The timing was off,” McLellan said. “There wasn’t much rhythm.”
The Canucks’ frustration at the early spate of penalties turned midway through the second period when the Sharks were called for four in a span of 2:46 to lead to the scoring outburst.
With Dany Heatley already in the box for high-sticking, Torrey Mitchell got called for hooking to give Vancouver its first two-man advantage. The Canucks took just 10 seconds to capitalize with Kesler beating Antti Niemi with a one-timer from the circle off a pass from Salo.
Just 1:23 later, the Sharks got caught with too many men on the ice, giving Vancouver its second two-man advantage. This time, it took the Canucks 16 seconds to score when Salo took a pass from Henrik Sedin and blasted it past Niemi from just inside the blue line.
After the ensuing faceoff, San Jose defenceman Douglas Murray hit the puck over the glass for a delay of game call. Ten seconds later, Salo capped the outburst with a big shot from between the circles as the Canucks ended up scoring on three of their four shots in the second period.
“Henrik’s probably biggest asset is the fact that he can see plays and make plays when there’s a lot of pressure,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Again, that line did that for us. They’re our offensive players and we need them to produce and they did.”
The rare afternoon start did little to dampen the enthusiasm from the normally boisterous Sharks fans or the sizable contingent of Canucks fans who made the trip to San Jose.
The Sharks were unable to give their fans an early goal to cheer about. The best scoring chance during those 10 minutes of power play-filled action came for the Canucks, but Mason Raymond was stopped in close twice by Niemi at the end of a 2-on-1 with Jannik Hansen.
“The guys did a huge job, blocking shots, getting in lanes, cutting off passing lanes, making sure there’s no seam passes, things like that,” Luongo said. “They mostly kept them to the outside, which makes my job easier.”
Notes: The three goals were the fastest in the playoffs for the Canucks, beating the previous mark of 2:18 against Calgary in 1989. … Vancouver scored one 5-on-3 goal all regular season. … Sharks captain Joe Thornton left in the third period after being hit into the boards by Raffi Torres.