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Sharks take 2-0 series lead behind Niemi, Marleau, Torres

For a twenty or so minute span, it seemed as if the Vancouver Canucks’ desperation would be enough to even this series. For a while, it seemed as if Ryan Kessler would salvage at least a bit of home ice advantage.

Then Patrick Marleau happened. And none of that mattered. But we’ll get back to that.

There will be an article tomorrow on the site that talks about advanced stats, Corsi, scoring chances and the like. But tonight, as unsophisticated as it sounds, this was definitely a game of momentum. A game of chances and effort. And a game of luck.

The Sharks survived an early onslaught from a determined Canucks squad as the game opened; Vancouver definitely wanted to assert their will after dropping the first game of the series on their own home ice. However, it was San Jose who was able to draw first blood, as Joe Thornton scored the first goal of the game in a mad scramble in front of the Vancouver net. I would love to tell you how the play was generated, but to be honest, the Sharks game was a bit of a clusterf*ck in the first and they were lucky to pound away and take the first step towards a win.

That win would not be easy to come by, though. While the Sharks definitely had the lead on the scoreboard, you could argue that the Canucks had been the better team up to that point. At the first intermission, TJ Galiardi (who continues to impress with both his maturity and ability), stated in an interview with CSN sideline reporter Brodie Brazil that his team expected the opposition to come out guns-a-blazin’. They weathered that storm, yes. But I don’t think he saw the tidal shift that was coming.

The Canucks should have never gotten as close as they did, as San Jose had a golden opportunity to go up 2-0. After scoring the game’s opening goal, Joe Thornton rung a shot off the post in an empty net situation on the power play. The puck should have gone in, but instead, the loud ping of the post did nothing more than highlight the Shark’s futility on the power play. A play that should have been an exclamation point goal was instead a comma in a back and forth contest. (literary analogy, ftw.)

Perhaps it is my own ignorance, or the fact that he’s been injured the majority of the last two seasons, but I haven’t taken Ryan Kesler too seriously lately. Even in the five periods that precluded his outburst, Kesler seemed more of an instigator than a game changer. Tonight’s game reminded me how deadly a player he can be when healthy.

Kesler was able to tie the game in the third period with a power play goal less than a minute in to regulation. Then, as the Sharks licked the wounds of a tie game that shouldn’t have been, Kesler was able to capitalize again with a booming slapshot on a zone entry miscue by Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski.

This point may be lost in the shuffle, but I think Alain Vigneault made a significant observation in the game one loss to Todd McLellan’s Sharks. Despite the fact that he was unable to get the correct line match ups that he should have been able to secure on his team’s home ice, credit Vigneault for identifying and counteracting San Jose’s zone exit strategy.

Most of the Sharks’ failed zone exits in the first period were a direct result of Vancouver sealing the boards as San Jose attempted too pass the puck off the rim. On Kesler’s go-ahead goal, Boyle tried to skirt the trend of getting stuck in zone and rushed a pass up the middle to Pavelski. That pass was intercepted by Kesler, who got his second goal of the game in dramatic, and painful fashion.

While it seemed that the Sharks would head back to the Silicon Valley with just one win in their pocket (still impressive), it was San Jose’s former captain who was able to sweeten the deal. After pulling Antti Niemi (who was fantastic) in the third, Patrick Marleau followed his own shot and powered a puck past Roberto Luongo to tie the game.

Marleau has taken, and continues to take, more than his fair share of heat in Sharks land for the team’s inability to advance to a Stanley Cup final. It’s unfounded. Marleau has played the hero more than enough in his career, even before you add in this young series. His second goal of the first round meant that his team would see an extra frame that they didn’t necessarily deserve. They wouldn’t squander the opportunity.

(Before I move on… does anyone else think it’s unfair that Jarome Iginla is Mr. Canada and a true gentleman and winner [despite never winning a cup], while Marleau is the scape goat for an expansion team’s inability to reach the upper echelon? Bleargh.)

Although the Canucks had their chances early in overtime, newly minted forward Brent Burns muscled his way into a two on one breakaway. Instead of shooting, he laced a pass over to former Canuck and current prick (but he’s our prick now) Raffi Torres, who delivered a perfect shot to beat Luongo and give him the opportunity for some awesome #Torresing down the ice (pictured).

It’s a win, and a very dramatic and satisfying one at that. Now, as you math wizzes already know, the Sharks have to win only two before the Canucks win four.What’s more, the Sharks get to play three at home.

However, San Jose has to be concerned with their unimpressive power play and … interesting … transition game. Even still, strong goaltending from newly minted superstar Antti Niemi and continued strong play should be plenty to continue the good vibes going forward.

FTF Three Stars

1st Star: Raffi Torres
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau
3rd Star: Antti Niemi

Is Patrick Marleau the best?

Yes 83
Very Yes 377

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