VANCOUVER – Most of the San Jose Sharks didn’t know what happened until they saw the Vancouver Canucks celebrating.
The 3-2 goal that ended their season at 10:18 of the second overtime period Tuesday night was not manufactured off your routine shoot-in and a diligent forecheck.
Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa got a fortuitous bounce off a stanchion along the side boards after Alex Edler tried to fire the puck behind the San Jose net.
Bieksa swatted the rolling puck behind netminder Antti Niemi who never saw it.
“I was looking for the puck,” Niemi said in a subdued Sharks dressing room as teammates silently stuffed pads and skates into equipment bags.
“I saw it go by so quickly, there was nothing to do at that point. Everybody was celebrating so, obviously … .”
Their season was over.
The Canucks won the best-of-seven Western Conference final 4-1 and will play either Boston or Tampa Bay in a bid to win the first Stanley Cup in the 40-year history of the franchise.
Sharks captain Joe Thornton, playing despite a separated shoulder suffered in Sunday’s Game 4, didn’t see Bieksa’s winner.
“The way they reacted you knew it went in,” Thornton said as the Sharks failed to get past the West final for the second straight season.
“Kind of a blur. Weird bounce and the puck’s in the net.”
Rookie Logan Couture, who had one of the best chances in double overtime but was foiled by goaltender Roberto Luongo, saw most of the sequence leading to Bieksa’s winner.
“(The puck) was coming up the wall,” he said. “(Shark forward) Patty (Marleau) hit it out of the air and no one saw it.
“I followed it but no one else saw it. I was out of position. Bieksa just took a slapshot and no one saw it. It was tough to follow. It was there (on the glass) and back out.”
San Jose coach Todd McLellan said Bieksa appeared to bounce the puck into the net.
“When you watch the replay, the officials didn’t know where it was, (Niemi) didn’t know where it was, Vancouver, San Jose, nobody knew where it was,” McLellan said.
“One more bounce (Bieksa) probably whiffs on it we’re still playing.”
Defenceman Ian White was on the ice but didn’t know what happened.
“I thought they kind of dumped it in behind the glass and it was going behind the net,” he said.
“I saw one of their guys skating toward the corner looking for it too so I started skating towards him.
“It still hasn’t hit, really. We’ll have to see it (on replay) but it doesn’t matter at this stage.”
The Canucks, outplayed for most of the game and outshot 56-34 by a team with more desperation in its effort, drew even on a Ryan Kesler tip-in with 13.2 seconds remaining.
Goalie Roberto Luongo was on the bench for an extra attacker and Kesler started the play with an offensive zone face-off win.
The draw resulted from an icing call the Sharks claimed went off Canuck forward Daniel Sedin.
“It happens real fast,” McLellan said. “May be hard to catch with the naked eye.
“Obviously an error but there’s nothing we’re doing about it now. We were yelling and screaming, but it wasn’t going to change.”
Centre Joe Pavelski said his club shook off the disappointment of failing in regulation time to force a sixth game Thursday in San Jose.
“We still liked our chances, regardless,” Pavelski said.
“We thought we had the puck a lot. Our mood doesn’t change. We definitely thought we knew the way back and came out and played a pretty good game. I’m definitely frustrated right now.”
But the Sharks had plenty of early scoring opportunities to take the game out of the hockey gods’hands.
Many went to Dany Heatley, the $8 million forward who had only one assist to show for the series and no goals for eight games. His best chances missed the net.
“I thought we played well enough to win tonight but throughout the series I didn’t think we played well enough to win the previous games,”Heatley said.
Marleau, credited with a goal that gave San Jose a 1-1 tie — his sixth in as many games — said the Sharks let the Canucks off the hook.
“We had our chances to score earlier and we let it slip away,”Marleau said.
Devin Setoguchi scored 24 seconds into the third period when a bad bounce at the blue-line led to a two-man break-in on Luongo.
While the Canucks reached their third Stanley Cup final after a 17-year wait, the Sharks lost for the seventh time in nine games since taking a 3-0 lead over Detroit in the conference semi-final.
The loss has already led to questions about an under-achieving team that also had the NHL’s best record in 2009 but bombed out in the first round to the Anaheim Ducks.
“We’ve still got a lot of years,”said Thornton of his club’s window to succeed with its current personnel.
“Our core group still has three years left so we’ll come back and be more hungry next year.”
He said there are 27 other teams that didn’t play as deep into the playoffs.
“I think they’d be jealous of the success we’ve had. To get here is an accomplishment but next year we’ve got to beat it.”
NOTES: The Sharks were 0-3 in Game 5s this post-season … they are 8-14 all-time when facing elimination … they have never won a series when trailing 3-1 but twice extended it to a sixth game … Sharks defenceman Jason Demers missed his fifth consecutive game although he said he was ready to play … Demers suffered an undisclosed injury when the Sharks closed out Detroit in Game 7 … Kent Huskins remained in his place.