Game Review: WCF Gm5

Bieksa and his Canucks are on to the Stanley Cup Final
(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Game Day Recon: Western Conference Final Game 5 – Sharks @ Canucks

They were outplayed. They made two costly blunders. Ryan Kesler was limping badly. They were down by a goal with less than 30 seconds to play in the game. Things weren’t looking good for the Vancouver Canucks. Then Kesler, playing one leg, tipped in a Henrik Sedin shot past Antti Niemi. And the Canucks had life. And then, after 30 minutes of overtime, Kevin Bieksa scored the weirdest goal in Canucks history. The "Bieksa Bounce" sent the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final.

What a game.

The game was heavily tilted in the Sharks’ favour. San Jose was the more dominant team for much of regulation. The Canucks held on through two groaner goals and two bad mistakes from the defense (although Lu took ownership of the second goal as a "bad read" on his part). The Sharks had plenty of shots and plenty of opportunity but couldn’t bury the Canucks. As the game rolled on and neared the end of regulation, the Sedins took over. They were flat-out dominating in the third period, but just weren’t turning their possession into shots or true scoring chances. With Kesler trying his best to shake off a bad leg (groin strain?), the onus was on the Sedins and Burrows to even up the game. As the minutes ticked away, the Sedins kept up the pressure, the Sharks playing on their heels.

The Sedins, with Burrows and Bieksa, and a hobbling Kesler were on-ice in the final minute. Marleau made a costly error in dumping the puck in the corner, without realizing that Luongo has already vacated his net. Then Boyle dumped the puck all the way down the ice, but deflecting off Daniel’s shoulder in the process. The icing call SHOULD have been waved off, but it wasn’t. Breaks can go in your favour, or against you. This one happened to fall in the Canucks’ favour. Henrik won the subsequent draw (one of only a few faceoffs that Thornton lost), play developed and the captain shot it on net, as Kesler made a picture-perfect deflection past Niemi to tie the game with only 14 seconds remaining. Huge cheers and huge sighs of relief.

As overtime played on, the Canucks’ speed and fitness started to will out. Despite being outshot, the Canucks had the advantage in territorial play and scoring chances. And as is fitting for this series, a truly bizarre goal finally ended the game and the series. Burrows tracked down the puck along the half-wall and banked it back to Edler, who was hanging out at the point. Edler tried to ring it up around the boards deep into the corner, above Marleau. The puck took one of the most favourable bounces in Canucks history, bobbing up in the air in front of Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa lined up for the shot, appearing to be the only player on the ice who knew where the puck was, and blooped the bouncing puck past a confused Niemi into the net.

And so ended the game and the series. And so started jubilation for the Canucks, the fans at Rogers Arena, the city of Vancouver and fans around the province and country. And heartbreak for the Sharks.

But didn’t the Sharks control the play? For much of the game, they certainly did.

For all of their domination of puck possession and zone starts and shots and CORSI, the Sharks just were not getting quality scoring chances that they should have. Scott Reynolds at Copper N Blue has the scoring chances even for the game, and he has the Canucks leading in scoring chances at even strength. The even-strength CORSI numbers show that the Sharks certainly had the advantage (+10 overall), and the zone starts show the same (+10). The Sharks’ rejigged third line of Dany Heatley, Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell had a terrific night – they all finally showed up and played very well. Joe Thornton showed the passion and fire needed to will his team to victory, playing with a separated shoulder. The Sharks were on FIRE in the faceoff circle, with Thornton, Pavelski and Mitchell going a combined 35-20 in the dot.

So what happened? With the HUGE advantage in shots and CORSI, with all the territorial advantage… the Sharks just couldn’t break through. Their two goals were complete gifts from the Canucks. Keith Ballard glove-tipped a powerplay point shot from Dan Boyle past Luongo, and Alex Edler lost his marbles and forgot how to play hockey for 5 seconds and let Pavelski and Setoguchi come in uncontested on Luongo, who was forced to try to run out and scramble to save a goal. So two gift goals, territorial and shot advantages and a tilt in power plays, and yet the Sharks still lost. How? That’s easy.

The Canucks’ best players were much better than the Sharks’ best players. The Sedins and Burrows were magic all night long, playing with the puck on a string. The Canucks top line was on-ice for all three of their goals and were basically the only Canucks’ forwards with positive CORSI numbers (averaging +11 for each of them). Bieksa and Hamhuis were easily the two best defensemen on the ice, with Bieksa being rewarded with a conference trophy-clinching goal. And then there’s Roberto Luongo, who submitted a positively stellar performance and was at his best through a period and a half of overtime.

And for as good as Thornton was, he was playing with a separated shoulder. And the Sharks best line was their third line. And Marleau had his poorest game of the series, as did Douglas Murray. The Sharks’ best players were not their best players and they were outplayed by the Canucks’ best players.

Three Big Stats

Here are my top 3 stats from last night’s game:

1. 54 saves on 56 shots. 20 Saves in OT. Roberto Luongo, the game’s first star, shut the door. This was easily his best game in this playoff season.

2. 33:33 – TOI for #33 Henrik Sedin. Not only is this most goddamn freaky stat I’ve seen in a while, it shows how Henrik was rolling tonight and how AV was getting his best player on the ice as much as possible. Only Alex Burrows has more ice time from the forwards, and that was only by 11 seconds.

3. 4:18, 3:49, 3:22 – Those are the TOI stats for Victor Oreskovich, Cody Hodgson, and Tanner Glass, respectively. Yeah they didn’t play much. In fact, they didn’t play as a combined line after the 7 minute mark of the second period. Hodgson only had one more shift after that. It was clear that AV was going to ride his best players to victory, but you have to hope that he builds or reconfigures this fourth line in such a way that he has more faith in them and can play them more minutes.

Three Big Moments

Here are my top 3 moments from last night’s game:

1. Kevin Bieksa’s series winning goal. It was the weirdest, flukiest and most favourable goal in Canucks history. And they’ll take it. As so will we.

Oh and just for good measure… here is the goal, the celebration and the presentation of the Clarence Campbell trophy.

2. Ryan Kesler’s game tying goal with 14 seconds remaining. Playing with a gimpy leg, Kesler parks himself in front Niemi, screens him, and makes a beautiful tip of a Henrik Sedin shot past the Sharks goalie, and effectively sending the game to overtime.

3. Alex Burrows’ opening goal. He has become the de facto beg game goal scorer. In the last 5 games where the Canucks have closed out a series with a victory, Burrows has 6 goals. Yeah. big time.

Thanks, as always, to CanucksHD for the video clips.