SAN JOSE, Calif. – Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau took 9 seconds to turn a tight game into a laugher and move the San Jose Sharks to the brink of their first playoff sweep in franchise history.
Couture and Marleau scored in rapid succession in the opening minutes of the third period to spoil Cory Schneider’s return to the nets for Vancouver and the Sharks won their third straight game to open the playoffs, beating the Canucks 5-2 on Sunday night.
“When you score goals that quick, it’s tough on the bench, it’s tough on the goalie,” Couture said. “‘It ruins his confidence a little bit. They were big goals. Patty’s goal was huge to get the three-goal lead. And then the fifth one was big as well.”
Couture had two goals and two assists, Joe Pavelski scored twice and Antti Niemi made 28 saves as the Sharks took a 3-0 series lead. San Jose will attempt to complete the first series sweep in franchise history at home on Tuesday night.
Alex Burrows and Dan Hamhuis scored for the Canucks, who have lost nine of their past 10 playoff games since taking a 3-2 series lead over Boston in the Stanley Cup finals two years ago. Vancouver dropped the last two games of that series, was eliminated in five games in the first round a year ago by Los Angeles and has now fallen into a deep hole against the Sharks.
“Right now we’re not good enough,” backup goalie Roberto Luongo said. “A couple of guys are out there playing their heart out but we need everybody. I don’t know how many positives you can take out of these three games.”
Even a change at goaltender couldn’t change the Canucks’ playoff fortunes. Schneider, the starter for most of the regular season, replaced Luongo after missing the first two games with an undisclosed injury.
But the change failed to provide a spark to Vancouver and backfired when Schneider couldn’t even make it through the game.
“We felt Lou was playing great to be honest with you,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “We felt lucky we didn’t have to play against him.”
Schneider was replaced by Luongo after allowing three goals in the first 4:07 of the third period to end Vancouver’s hopes of a comeback. Two of those goals came on the power play as San Jose tied a franchise playoff record with three power play goals.
The scoring flurry to start the third sent the sellout crowd at the Shark Tank into a frenzy. The first came on a power play when Couture took a long breakout pass from Matt Irwin and beat Schneider from the top of the circle with no traffic in front of the net on the power play.
Couture then won the ensuing faceoff and Marleau skated into the zone and beat Schneider between the pads before the first celebration had even died down to score for the third straight game.
“We felt like we were in it, down 2-1 going into the third period,” centre Derek Roy said. “We felt good about ourselves and then it’s the power play again and before we know it we’re down 4-1. We have to stay out of the penalty box.”
Couture added another power-play goal on a pass from Joe Thornton to give him three for the series and give the Sharks three goals in a span of 2:27.
Luongo stopped all 10 shots he faced but by then it was too late to help the Canucks. Coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say who would start Game 4.
“Cory didn’t lose his net to injury,” Vigneault said. “He was playing real well. He was good to go today. He knew yesterday. Cory was healthy and he’s the guy that I wanted to go with. It was my decision.”
As much as the goaltending was a problem for Vancouver in this game, goal scoring has been a problem all series. Burrows gave the top line its first goal of the series when he one-timed a pass from Henrik Sedin past Niemi midway through the second period to cut San Jose’s lead to 2-1.
But that’s all Vancouver could manage until Hamhuis’ goal late in the third cut the deficit to 5-2. The Canucks have been held to five goals through three games.
“We absolutely have to score more,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “They are scoring a lot and we need to put more goals in.”
Pavelski built the lead for the Sharks when he scored on a two-man advantage in the first period and then tipped a long shot from Tommy Wingels past Schneider to make it 2-0 in the second period.
After being held without a point in a five-game, first-round loss to St. Louis a year ago, Pavelski is back to being the big-time playoff performer he has been for much of his career in San Jose. He had his fourth career two-goal game in the post-season after assisting on three goals the first two games.
San Jose returned home to a towel-waving crowd at the Shark Tank after winning the first two games on the road in a playoff series for the first time since 1995 and broke out to a 1-0 lead after a high-paced first period when Pavelski converted a pass from Couture during a 5-on-3 advantage.
The Sharks lost just twice in regulation at home in the regular season and were even better in their first playoff game in front of their fans.
“We feel good when we play in the building,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Pavs said something after the game about the fans that they almost become his legs at times because they are so energizing.”
NOTES: The goals by Couture and Marleau were the second fastest in playoff history for San Jose, 1 second slower than John MacLean and Ron Sutter in 1998 against Dallas. … The Sharks have won all six meetings against the Canucks this season.