NHL Playoff Recap: Niemi almost steals Game 1 from Canucks


THN’s Take: The Canucks won all the battles early but looked like they were going to lose the war to Sharks goalie Antti Niemi. That was until two quick strikes midway through the third tilted the scoreboard in Vancouver’s favor and the home team got the result it deserved.

Through the first half of the game, the focal point was the clash between Sharks captain Joe Thornton and Canucks heart-and-soul center Ryan Kesler, a matchup that appears to be a microcosm of the series writ large. And while Thornton played very well on the night, Kesler got better back-up from his squad as the Canucks outhit and outshot the Sharks.

Really, Vancouver’s only concern should be the play of goalie Roberto Luongo, who was a disaster on both San Jose goals and didn’t have to do much otherwise.

Three Stars
1. Kevin Bieksa – The Canucks defenseman threw some monster, statement bodychecks against San Jose’s top players (including Thornton) and also notched the game-tying goal on the rush. Bieksa was also strong in his own end.

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2. Henrik Sedin – The Twins weren’t very effective early on, but the third period changed all that. Henrik had a goal and a helper to push his team ahead for good.

3. Antti Niemi – Thornton would also be a good candidate here, but Niemi was sublime in the second period, repelling several goal-mouth scrambles and denying Jannik Hansen point-blank. The Finnish netminder ended the night with 35 saves.

The Black Hole
Kent Huskins – Subbing in for Jason Demers, San Jose’s Huskins played his first game of the post-season and it showed. The veteran blueliner was torched on several occasions by the speedier Canucks and played less than 13 minutes on the night. If you need a runner-up, Dany Heatley’s ill-timed elbowing penalty on Raffi Torres led to the game-winning Vancouver goal on the ensuing power play.

The NHL Game Night Recap will get you caught up with all the playoff action. THN will name our Three Stars for each game and tabulate the results after each series. First Star = three points, Second Star = two points, Third Star = one point.