VANCOUVER – Simply being average wasn’t good enough for Henrik Sedin.
In a span of 79 seconds the slightly older Sedin brother showed the skill that makes him one of the best players in the NHL.
First he assisted on defenceman Kevin Bieksa’s game-tying goal. Then he scored the winner on a power play as the Vancouver Canucks twice overcame one-goal deficits to defeat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in Sunday’s opening game of the Western Conference final.
It was one of those nights where the puck followed Henrik Sedin and twin brother Daniel like a friendly dog. Their passes were magic. They used their speed to make the Sharks look tired.
“When the twins get going like that they are almost unstoppable,” said Bieksa, who made it 2-2 at 7:02 of the third period.
“They generate every shift. They could of had three or four tonight the way they were going. They are going to be tough to stop.”
Henrik Sedin scored the winner at 8:21 of the third after Dany Heatley was called for elbowing. The Canuck captain took a pass from defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and flipped a pretty backhand past Shark goaltender Antti Niemi.
The Sharks knew the dangers the Sedins presented. Stopping the brothers proved harder.
“One was the most valuable player in the league last year and one is going to be the most valuable player in the league this year,” said San Jose coach Todd McLellan.
“So do we worry about them? Absolutely.”
Henrik Sedin’s goal was just his second of the playoffs. There has been speculation he’s playing with an injury that has affected his productivity.
“We’re here to score goals and produce,” said Henrik, who has nine assists and 11 points in 14 games. “That’s tough to do in the playoffs.
“I think a lot of games we played well and had our chances, but pucks haven’t gone our way. ”
Criticizing the Sedins is as much a sport in Vancouver as mountain biking and sailboarding. Daniel Sedin has six goals and 10 points, but people still wondered if the brothers were tough enough for the playoffs.
If Henrik was bothered by the talk, he didn’t tell his brother.
“He hasn’t said much,” said Daniel Sedin, who won this year’s scoring title and is a finalist for league MVP. “He has been criticized his whole life for not scoring. It’s nothing new.
“He wants to score goals too. He’s happy to get the game winner tonight.”
Henrik Sedin, named the league MVP last season after winning the scoring race, said he doesn’t need the television or newspapers to tell him when things aren’t going well.
“We know when we’re not playing well,” he said. “We don’t have to hear that from anybody else.
“There have been games where we when we’ve been happy with the way we’ve played.”
Centre Ryan Kesler said no one in the Canucks’ locker-room has questioned Henrik’s contributions during the playoffs.
“For Hank’s defensive (play), he has been playing really well and some of that negative energy has been directly wrongly at him,” said Kesler.
“Sometimes the puck doesn’t go in the net. I was really happy to see him get that one. He won us the game.”
Maxim Lapierre had the other Vancouver goal.
Joe Thornton, with a goal and an assist, and Patrick Marleau, on the power play, scored for San Jose. The Sharks led 2-1 after 40 minutes.
Game 2 will be in Vancouver on Wednesday. The best-of-seven series moves to San Jose for games Friday and Sunday.
The game lacked the emotion and offensive fireworks the teams usually generate. It took’s Bieksa’s goal before the towel-waving, sellout crowd of 18,860 made much noise.
It’s the third time in four games the Sharks have blown a third-period lead.
The Sharks came into the match having barely caught their breath after an emotional Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semifinal. San Jose led that series 3-0 at one point.
The Canucks needed to shake off some early rust.They had five days off after eliminating Nashville in six games.
“They found their legs while we lost ours,” said McLellan.
“We’ve got to get better. We have to get energies and read ready for Game 2.”
Vancouver outshot the Sharks 13-7 in the third period.
“We didn’t spend enough time in their end,” Heatley said. “We didn’t do a very good job of keeping it in their end and making them play down there for very long.”
The Canucks began to take control of the game in the second period. Niemi was forced to hold his ground during a wild scramble. With bodies flying around him, Niemi flattened his left pad and stopped several whacks at the puck by Kesler and Jannik Hansen.
Marleau gave San Jose a 2-1 lead at 8:44 of the second period on a power play when he deflected a Dan Boyle shot from the point over Roberto Luongo’s glove. Thornton assisted on the play.
A Luongo miscue resulted in the Sharks opening the scoring at 18:47 of the first period.
The Canuck goaltender was attempting to move the puck out from behind the net, but his clearing pass landed on Thornton’s stick. The big centre fired the puck into an open net while Luongo scrambled to get back into position.
The Canucks are returning to the Western Conference final after a 17-year absence. Vancouver hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final to the New York Rangers.
The Sharks played in last year’s conference final. They were swept in four games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canucks won the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history by finishing the regular season with the best record in the NHL. Vancouver had 117 points, 12 more than the Sharks who were second in the Western Conference.
Notes: There was a moment of silence prior to the game for Derek Boogaard, the New York Ranger whose body was found Friday. … Glee star Cory Monteith, who was raised in Victoria, attended the game. … The Canucks and Sharks have never met in the playoffs. … Torres, Lapierre, Mikael Samuelsson and Manny Malhotra are the only Canucks to have played in a conference final.