SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 22: Daniel Sedin #22, Alexander Edler #23, Henrik Sedin #33, Sami Salo #6 and goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 and back-up goaltender Cory Schneider #35 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulate on another after they defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 22, 2011 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Head Coach Todd McLellan loves to talk about opportunity.
Whether it be a shift to start a period, the rush of adrenaline leading up to a tilt, or a specific moment in a game where one play can swing the momentum in a positive direction, opportunity is all around us. Both in life as well as this great sport we love.
Opportunity didn't evade San Jose today. San Jose evaded opportunity.
"When you look at our execution, our passing, our face-offs, opportunities to win pucks, you start breaking out all the time," McLellan said. "And when you're against the number one penalty kill in the League, you have to be sharp. And we weren't. It was as simple as that."
San Jose's power play, which came into today's game functioning at an unworldly 46% rate, had numerous opportunities to bury theearly-- Vancouver was dinged for five penalties in the first twenty four minutes of the game. In other words, San Jose played nearly half of the first period and beginning of the second with the man advantage. But San Jose couldn't convert-- entries into the zone were a sloppy affair as the Sharks drove middle and couldn't complete the kick out to the half wall, passing after gaining the zone was tentative and in small spaces, traffic in front of was lighter than an apple walnut salad, and a tenaciousness that will define a team's ability to go for the jugular was nonexistent.
The Sharks had the Canucks on the ropes, the crowd roaring as the finishing moves were promised but never applied. The three count that could have been.
"We just didn't execute. I think it was us. They had a strong stance at the blueline, they had four accross,"said between gritted teeth. "We tried different things, we tried to force pucks. We just didn't execute."
Although the lack of conversion is likely to be laid at the feet of San Jose, credit Vancouver's penalty kill for regaining the swagger that made them the best shorthanded unit in the League during the regular season. Roberto Luongo was a big part of the Canucks win tonight, shutting the door on the chances San Jose had while giving up a very limited amount of rebounds throughout the tilt. When he did kick out a rebound Vancouver's strong defensive unit was up to the task, clearing pucks from the dangerous areas of the ice.
"I think we just did our job. It's what the PK has to do, we have to outwork the power play. I think from the first period in game three on we did what we wanted to do and continued it," Canucks center Ryan Kesler said. "It's tough [to start off the game with 5 penalties] but we have to do it."
Following San Jose's missed opportunities in the first half of the tilt, Vancouver was blessed with three opportunities of their own. In a span of two minutes and forty six seconds the Sharks paraded to the box with reckless abandon, much like the parade that permeated throughout the second period of game three. With, , , and in the box for high sticking, hooking, too many men, and delay of game infractions respectively, the Canucks got to work with three 5 on 3 advantages.
The Sharks dodged a bullet on the 5v3 in game three. Tonight, they took three of them right in the chest.
"We got away with it last time. We blocked shots, we didn't block them tonight," Sharks defensemansaid. "I'm not going to blame the three guys that were out there, they did what they could. It's bound to go in 5 on 3 when you give up that many opportunities."
Vancouver went on to score three times in a span of 1:55, with all three of those second period goals coming at 5 on 3.opened the scoring with a laser of a one-timer that was set up by and . Salo and Sedin would go on to contribute on the next two as well, with Henrik finding Salo two more times on the same set play high in the zone. A pair of point shots from the 36 year old Finn gave the Canucks a 3-0 lead, with his final shot proving to be the game winner.
"I didn't like the penalties that originated the five on threes. Heater's penalty, a turnover at the line and then the hook. Then Mitchell's penalty was one where he reached in. And then it snowballs from there," Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. "It's hard to argue too many men on the ice and it's certainly hard to argue the puck out of play."
"I can't sit here and whine and bitch about the officiating. Because it had absolutely nothing to do with it."
It took Vancouver a mere two minutes to turn the tides of a game that San Jose had dominated up to that point, two minutes that San Jose had been blessed with five times before. In a game of opportunity, those tides can sink the stoutest of vessels, submerge even the strongest of ships. And although the Sharks would go on to make things interesting in the final frame, getting a pair of goals fromand to cut the deficit to two at the 7:02 and 15:55 mark respectively, it was not enough.
Opportunity is a fickle sword, one whose blade can cut both ways throughout the course of a game and series. With San Jose's back pressed against the wall, and the prospect of a second straight Western Conference Finals loss staring them dead in the face, the Sharks must now win three in a row including two in the less than hospitable Rogers Arena.
It's not the most appealing of situations. But the locker room, like they have shown all throughout this season, still remains confident in their ability to persevere.
"We played with our back against the wall last game, we played well. If we can play desperate hockey, you know we've got everything to lose here," Ryane Clowe said. "We haven't won yet in Vancouver, we haven't even played good hockey. We've been good on the road [this year]. Their only hope is to close it out there, they don't want to come back to San Jose."
"Sometimes if you can make them play an extra game back in here, you get your momentum back."