By Brian Willwerth
Before the San Jose Sharks knew what hit them, they were eliminated.
After giving up the lead in the final seconds of regulation, the Sharks gave up a strange goal to Kevin Bieksa in double-overtime in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. It gave the Vancouver Canucks a series-clinching 3-2 victory at Rogers Arena. The Canucks are in the finals for the first time since 1994.
For awhile, it looked like the Sharks were going to send the series back to San Jose for a Game 6. Just seconds into the third period, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo gambled when he came out to handle a loose puck, and got burned. Devin Setoguchi picked it up and fired it into an open net to give San Jose the lead. It stayed that way until the final seconds of regulation. With Luongo on the bench for the extra skater, Ryan Kesler deflected Henrik Sedin‘s shot past Antti Niemi to tie the game.
The Sharks had plenty of chances in the extra sessions to keep their season alive. They had 20 shots between the two overtime periods, and 56 for the game. Luongo stopped all but two of them.
Midway through the fifth period of play, Bieksa became the hero when his knuckleball drifted past Niemi for the game-winner. Niemi had no idea where the puck was. Neither did the rest of the Sharks. Neither did the TV announcers. Neither did the audience watching this double-overtime classic on TV. Then replays showed what really happened. When Alex Edler tried to dump the puck in deep, it took a weird bounce off the glass and came right out to Bieksa just inside the blue line. Bieksa didn’t get much on the shot, but it was enough to get it past a dumbfounded group of Sharks.
This will be the Canucks’ third trip to the finals. They have never won the Stanley Cup. They nearly suffered a colossal playoff collapse in the opening round against the Blackhawks. That seems like a distant memory now. The Presidents’ Trophy champions will be the favorite in the final round, whether it’s against Boston or Tampa Bay.