2011 NHL Western Conference Finals Game 3 - San Jose 4, Vancouver 3 – Canucks lead series, 2-1
The San Jose Sharks were properly embarrassed after Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. They imploded on the ice, they mocked their conquerors, and gave precious little effort at a time of year when hockey players are expected to sacrifice their bodies. The Sharks showed a lot of grit in overcoming the Detroit Red Wings in a classic seven-game series, so two failures in Vancouver, especially the Game 2 no-show, threatened to once again cast a pall over a relatively solid season. There’s no shame in making the final four of the playoffs, but as the Sharks returned to their San Francisco Bay Area home for Game 3 of this series, they had to confront the possibility that they’d be swept out of the West finals for the second year in a row. That could not be allowed to happen… not if the Sharks wanted to be remembered fondly in 2011.
Sure enough, a chastened and humiliated team responded the way its coaching staff expected. On Friday night in San Jose, the Sharks summoned up the pride of a talented team that had run out of excuses, rationalizations, and – most of all – time.
Thrust into a must-win situation by the top-seeded Canucks, San Jose burst out of the gates with a three-goal first period and then held on for dear life at the end of regulation, nipping Vancouver to make the West finals a series at HP Pavilion. The bounce-back performance in Silicon Valley ensured a plane flight back to Vancouver for Game 5 on Tuesday, thereby injecting some drama into what had been a one-sided series.
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San Jose wasted no time taking control of this tilt on Friday. Patrick Marleau scored two goals, one of them on the power play, as the Sharks raced to a 3-0 lead in the first 18 minutes. Vancouver was listless and dead-legged while San Jose skated, hit and moved the puck with considerable verve and purpose. The Sharks’ two power-play goals in the first period enabled their man-advantage attack to remain perfect for the series until that point in time. San Jose was 5-for-5 on the power play in the series when it hit the back of the net in two separate 5-on-4 situations. Vancouver’s penalty kill finally snuffed out multiple San Jose power plays in the second and third periods, but the damage had been done to the President’s Trophy winner, which was looking for a road win and a 3-0 hammerlock on the series.
The Canucks, to their credit, got off the deck and made a game of this, but their flurry started just a bit too late. Down 4-1 entering the final seven minutes of regulation, the Canucks brought the heat and made a flagging San Jose team pay a price for its lack of focus. The Sharks committed two penalties in close proximity to each other, and taking a page out of the San Jose power-play guidebook, Vancouver cashed two 5-on-4s into goals by Dan Hamhuis – at 13:39 – and Kevin Bieksa at 16:04. Yes, with just under four minutes left, the top seed had created a one-goal game. Shaken into an urgency that existed at the beginning of the game but left the building midway through the third period, the Sharks locked down on defense in the final minutes and won this must-have game.
Game 4 on Sunday afternoon now becomes the pivot point of the series. Either Vancouver will carry that strong third period into Sunday and break the Sharks’ will, or San Jose will create a fresh series and, in the process, plant fresh doubts in the minds of every Vancouver player.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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