VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks came close to evening their first-round playoff series with the San Jose Sharks on Friday night—but couldn’t seal the deal.
The Canucks were within a minute of the victory but missed a shot at an empty net. Instead, Patrick Marleau had a goal in the final minute of regulation and Raffi Torres scored at 5:31 of overtime to give the Sharks a 3-2 victory over Vancouver in Game 2 of their Western Conference quarter-final series Friday night.
“It’s about making a couple more plays,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “We should be disappointed and upset with ourselves, however you want to call it. But we were a couple plays away and a couple of seconds away from getting the win.
“Empty net. Play in our end. Disappointing. It’s gonna burn for a couple more hours.”
The Sharks took a seemingly commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to San Jose for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 Tuesday.
The Canucks suffered their sixth consecutive loss in a home playoff game. Now, they might not get another one—after securing home-ice advantage with their fifth consecutive Northwest Division title.
Torres, a former Canuck, scored on a 2-on-1 after Brent Burns blocked an Alex Edler shot at the San Jose blue-line and raced with his teammate toward the net.
“I think it shows a lot about our team,” said Torres. “We give up the lead, they were playing great. They were coming at us with everything. We showed a lot of determination, a lot of perseverance.”
The goal came after Vancouver’s Jannik Hansen missed a shot into an empty-net from centre ice with just over a minute left in regulation time with Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker.
“Right now, it’s two very evenly-matched teams, two teams competing really hard, and we’re on the wrong side right now,” said Vigneault. “We’ve been on the wrong side for two games. We’ve gotta find a way to get on the right side.”
Marleau’s goal in the final minute of regulation time forced the extra session.
Joe Thornton also scored for San Jose.
Ryan Kesler scored third-period goals for Vancouver, helping the Canucks overcome a 1-0 deficit that had stood since the first period.
“I thought we played exceptional tonight,” said Kesler. “We just didn’t get it done. We have to regroup and focus on Game 3. (Saturday), we will learn form this and move on.”
The Sharks outshot the Canucks 33-31 as Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and San Jose’s Niemi waged a goaltenders’ battle for most of the game.
Luongo made 30 saves while Niemi stopped 29 at the other end.
Vancouver converted one of three power-play chances while San Jose was blanked on five.
“I thought we had some great opportunities in the first,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “Lou made some great saves. Second period, they started to get going a little bit. We entered the third and take a penalty that we’d probably like to have back. They scored on the power play.
“We, in turn, get an opportunity right back on a bad penalty. The power play wasn’t as sharp as we’d like it to be. We kind of felt the momentum swing there a little bit, but we stuck with it. It’s been our team for the last two months, or a month and a half. We just keep going and see what happens at the end of the night.”
The Canucks revamped their bottom-three forward lines in a bid to get more offence, and the moves worked as Kesler, a catalyst for the changes, stood out. Kesler, usually a centre, played right wing on the second line with Derek Roy in the middle and Chris Higgins on the left side. Kesler took face-offs in the right circle to take advantage of his right-handed shot.
His move to the point on the power play also paid off as he created a 1-1 tie just 59 seconds into the third period on a slapshot from the blue-line during an extra-man situation. The goal came 20 seconds after San Jose’s Andrew Desjardins was sent off for tripping Alex Edler.
Kesler put the Canucks ahead just over seven minutes later after a San Jose giveaway. Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle passed it up the middle and it deflected off Pavelski’s stick and right to Kesler alone in the high slot.
He made no mistake, ripping a slapper over Niemi’s outstretched leg and blocker.
But Marleau forced overtime as he poked the puck in from behind the net after his shot squeezed through Luongo’s legs and came to rest just in front of the goal-line.
With just under five minutes gone in overtime, McLellan called a timeout as the Canucks were pressing in order to give his tired team a break. Moments later, Torres scored to give the Sharks the win.
Torres capitalized after Luongo stoned him in the second period, sprawling to make a glove save after a Vancouver giveaway. But the Shark empathized with his former teammate.
“Luongo has been great the first two games,” said Torres. “He’s given that team a chance to win. He’s a great goalie. He does a hell of a job blocking all the garbage that is said about him.
“It feels good to get the winner. (But) you know he will bounce back. He always does.”
If necessary, Game 5 will be in Vancouver on Thursday.
Notes: Sharks winger Martin Havlat missed the game due to an undisclosed injury suffered in Game 1. … Rookie Joe Cannata again served as Luongo’s backup as Cory Schneider continued to recover from an undisclosed injury suffered late in the regular season. Schneider took the morning skate, but the Canucks had not yet decided whether he will travel to San Jose.