2011 NHL Western Conference Finals Game 4 - Vancouver 4, San Jose 2 – Canucks lead series, 3-1
If you live long enough, you’ll see everything. No, the rapture didn’t happen on Saturday, but the day after the end of the world didn’t come off as some folks had planned, a thoroughly crazy hockey game unfolded at HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. You could play thousands upon thousands of games as a player and participate in many more as a coach or referee and not witness the specific scenario that graced the fourth installment of the Western Conference finals. Hockey lifers have to be wondering if they’ve ever seen anything like Game 4 of the series between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks.
The hockey lifers who live in Canada, while perhaps amazed and bewildered, aren’t about to complain. A Canadian team is on the verge of returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2007, as the people of the Great North hope for their first NHL champion since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
What made Game 4 at the Shark Tank so amazing? It wasn’t the five penalties Vancouver killed off in the first period, as San Jose’s power play fizzled after dominating the first two and a half games of the series. It wasn’t that Vancouver won despite generating just 13 shots, although that rates as a considerable surprise. There have been and will be occasions when a team is economical with its shots, beats a sluggish goalie – San Jose’s Antti Niemi – and then sits back with a four-goal lead as the Canucks did in the third period, coasting to the finish line by two goals. You don’t see that kind of scenario just anytime this late in the postseason, but that’s hardly an unheard-of development on the ice rink.
What made this a game unlike any other in the long and decorated history of the Stanley Cup playoffs? The way in which Vancouver scored its first three goals and assumed total control in this best-of-seven set.
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The Canucks didn’t just register three power-play goals in close proximity to each other midway through the second period. The President’s Trophy winner didn’t just ring up three scores in a matter of 1 minute and 55 seconds. Other teams – like Tampa Bay on Saturday, as a matter of fact – have lit the lamp multiple times in a playoff year that has witnessed many such outbursts. No, what set apart this parade of goals for the top seed in the West was that San Jose insisted on making things as easy as possible for its opponent.
Two Sharks proceeded to the penalty box near the midway point of the second period in a scoreless game. Soon afterward, Ryan Kesler banged in a slap shot past Niemi to give Vancouver a 5-on-3 goal – the kind of goal it failed to get on Friday night in Game 3 – and a 1-0 edge at 9:16.
The nightmare for the Sharks was just beginning. A too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty immediately restored a 5-on-3, and when Sami Salo ripped a one-timer past Niemi at 10:55, the Canucks gained a cushion and the tsunami of confidence along with it. Safe to say, the Sharks needed to stop the bleeding at that point and steer the game toward a more settled state. With half a hockey game left to play, the Sharks had it in them to get one goal before the end of the second period or, at the very least, prevent Vancouver from feeling too comfortable on the ice.
In seconds, that dream died, as San Jose’s Douglas Murray cleared the puck over the ice for a delay-of-game penalty that turned yet another 5-on-4 into a third straight 5-on-3 within two minutes. Salo, fresh from his first laser of a goal, slammed the puck past Niemi just 16 seconds later to give Vancouver – yes – a third straight 5-on-3 goal not only in the same period, but within a two-minute time window.
Game over. Now the series is almost over, and Vancouver – up 3-1 after four games for the third straight series this spring – can taste a Western Conference championship.
Hockey lifers can make sense of that. They just might need more time to process a remarkable afternoon in Silicon Valley.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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