San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

Canucks stun Sharks 3-2 in double overtime to head to first Stanley Cup finals since 1994

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It turned out to be a classic Game 5 between Vancouver and San Jose and one that will go down as one of the most bizarre finishes to a game in Stanley Cup playoffs history Canucks took out the Sharks in double overtime 3-2. The night’s game winner came thanks to a magical bounce off the glass that went right to Kevin Bieksa who knuckled home the game winner to beat Antti Niemi and send the Canucks to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1994.

The first 60 minutes of the game went as up and down as you might expect with the teams trading goals and trading rushes to turn this game into an instant classic.

In the first period it was Alexandre Burrows getting the Canucks off on the right foot with a little help from Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin as they teamed up on a passing play that’s fitting for any highlight reel around.

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In the second period, the Sharks would continue to exert control over the game. Through two periods of  play the Sharks would outshoot the Canucks 25-11 and in the second, the Sharks would get one back on the power play, much the same way they have all series long, and here it would be Patrick Marleau apparently getting a stick on a point shot from Dan Boyle.

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In the third period, Devin Setoguchi would give the Sharks a 2-1 lead scoring 24 seconds into the period. With the way San Jose was dominating in shots on goal and in play all around, Vancouver’s task to get back into the game was a tall one.

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As the period wore on, the teams would trade chances and with the game into the final minute of play where things would get a bit controversial. San Jose’s Dan Boyle would clear the puck out of the San Jose end as the Canucks were turning up the pressure with Roberto Luongo out of the net for the extra attacker. The puck went all the way down and was touched up for icing. What the officials missed, however, is that the puck glanced off of Daniel Sedin’s back. That touch should’ve negated icing but instead the faceoff came in teh Sharks zone.

On that faceoff, the Canucks won it, controlled the play in the zone where Ryan Kesler would tip a Henrik Sedin shot past Antti Niemi (31 saves) to tie the game up with 13.2 seconds remaining in regulation. What was a dominating effort from San Jose was now reset with the teams headed to overtime and the Sharks playoff lives on the line.

The teams would trade chances in the first overtime but ultimately come away empty with the Sharks continuing to outshoot Vancouver in the first extra period, this time peppering Roberto Luongo for 16 shots. Overall in the game Luongo would prove to be electric stopping 54 shots. Fortunately for him, his efforts wouldn’t go to waste in the second overtime.

There, the teams took a bit more of a selective pace to the game as players grew more tired and taking chances became risky. The Canucks would get a great chance in second overtime as Chris Higgins would get a breakaway thanks to a Sharks mishandle in the neutral zone but Niemi would close the legs up and shut it down.

At 10:18 of the second overtime though, things would get weird as a Canucks attempted dump deep into the zone off the glass would hit a partition and bounce right back out to the point to Kevin Bieksa who took advantage of everyone else who thought the puck had either gone into the crowd or the netting as he ripped home a shot that beat Niemi for the goal sending Rogers Arena into jubilation. For Bieksa it was his fourth goal of the series and fifth in the playoffs.

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For Vancouver, it’s their first Western Conference championship since 1994 when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Campbell Bowl and a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. The Canucks clinched their spot in 1994 thanks to a double overtime goal as well. History is funny that way. For what it’s worth, Canucks captain would not even touch the trophy when NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presented it to him following the game. Keep that in mind for all of your superstition needs.

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San Jose has nothing to hang their head about. Sure the series finished in five games, but the Sharks didn’t exactly play terrible in the series. Tonight they ran into a red hot Roberto Luongo and were vexed by a pair of fortunate bounces for the Canucks. In the series, the Canucks were just a better team and being beaten by the better team is expected in the playoffs. Some folks will talk about them being “chokers” or start lumping this Sharks team with others in the past that failed to live up to expectations, but that’s just not the case here.

Vancouver will now wait to see who they’ll face in the Stanley Cup finals be it Boston or Tampa Bay. Boston will have a chance to wrap up their spot in the final on Wednesday night in Tampa as they hold a 3-2 series lead. Should Boston make the final, it would be their first appearance since 1990 when the Bruins lost to a Mark Messier-led Edmonton Oilers team. If Tampa forces a Game 7, that will be played on Friday night in Boston.

Here are the highlights from Game 5.

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Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”

 

Video: So, Joe Thornton is pretty stoked about playing in the Stanley Cup Final

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‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton is off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. The San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

And yeah, the 36-year-old Thornton, a veteran of 1,367 regular season games with 1,341 career regular season points, is pretty excited for both himself and his team when it comes to this feat.

It hasn’t been easy in San Jose. It hasn’t been easy for the franchise, for the fans, for the players, for Thornton or for Patrick Marleau, who is also 36 years old and has played his entire career (1,411 regular season games) in San Jose.

There have been playoff failures and a regular season disappointment last year. There has been a coaching change and harsh words exchanged between Thornton and management — more specifically, GM Doug Wilson — and an organizational decision to remove the captaincy from Thornton.

After all that, however, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Did we mention Joe Thornton is excited about the final?

Franchise history: The Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final

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For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

This, after a monumental and historical collapse in the first round to the L.A. Kings two years ago. This, after they failed to make the playoffs a year ago, resulting in a coaching change. There have been other post-season disappointments along the way before that, too.

Those difficult times may never be forgotten. But the Sharks have rebounded, and it culminated with a 5-2 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Fans at SAP Center could feel it, too, especially after Joel Ward scored his second goal of the night, giving San Jose a three-goal lead early in the third period.

The Blues attempted a furious comeback but couldn’t quite complete it.

The Sharks this year have eliminated the Kings, Nashville Predators and now the Blues in that order. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

The Sharks got off to the perfect start in the series clincher versus St. Louis. Joe Pavelski recorded his 13th goal, which leads all players in this post-season, and the Sharks continued to roll from there.

Ward increased the lead in the second period and again in the third. His second of the night proved to be the winner. Joonas Donskoi‘s goal, making it 4-0 San Jose before the midway point of the third period, proved critical as the Blues tried to spark a desperation comeback.

The Blues’ leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points in the regular season) was held off the score sheet through the first five games of this series, before finally striking for both St. Louis goals in Game 6.

Penguins, Lightning prepare for the ‘roller coaster’ of Game 7

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby is in no mood to get caught up in his own personal narrative, the one eager to attach whatever happens to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday against Tampa Bay to the superstar’s legacy.

Forget that Crosby has the game-winning goal in each of Pittsburgh’s victories in its entertaining back-and-forth with the resilient Lightning. Forget that he hasn’t been on the winning side of a post-series handshake line this deep into the playoffs since his glorious night in Detroit seven years ago, which ended with him hoisting the Penguins’ third Stanley Cup.

Yes, he’s playing well. Yes, his dazzling, imminently GIF-able sprint through the Tampa Bay zone late in the second period of Game 6 added another signature moment to a career full of them. Yet lifting Pittsburgh back to the Cup final for the first time since 2009 does not rely solely on him so much as the collective effort of all 20 guys in his team’s retro black and Vegas gold uniforms.

Related: Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

Depth has carried the Penguins this far. Crosby insists Game 7 will be about the team, not him.

“You give yourself the best chance of winning by keeping it simple and not putting too much emphasis on kind of the story line around it,” Crosby said.

Even if it’s easy to get lost in those story lines. The Lightning are on the verge of a second straight berth in the final despite playing the entire postseason without captain Steven Stamkos and losing Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop in the first period of the conference finals when he twisted his left leg awkwardly while scrambling to get into position.

Yet Tampa Bay has stuck around, ceding the ice to the Penguins for significant stretches but using their speed to counterattack brilliantly while relying on 21-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevski. The Lightning are hardly intimidated by having to go on the road in a series decider. They did it a year ago in the Eastern final against New York, beating the Rangers 2-0 in Madison Square Garden.

“You’ve got to go back to a tough environment, just like the Garden was last year,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “And you’ve got to have your A-game.”

The Lightning hoped to avoid revisiting this spot. They could have closed out Pittsburgh at home but fell behind by three goals and didn’t recover, fitting for a series that appears to be a coin flip as a whole but not so much night to night. The team that’s scored first is 5-1 and there’s only been a single lead change in 18-plus periods spread out over nearly two weeks: Tyler Johnson‘s deflection in overtime that gave Tampa Bay Game 5.

“You always want to play with the lead, and always the first goal is big,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-0 in Game 7s. “But, again, we were down 2-0 in Game 5 and came back from that. So it’s not cut in stone, the outcome of the game, no matter if you’re down a goal or two.”

Maybe, but it’d be cutting it pretty close. Tampa Bay’s rally in Game 5 was Pittsburgh’s first loss when leading after two periods all year. The Penguins responded by going back to rookie goaltender Matt Murray – who turned 22 on Wednesday – and putting together perhaps their finest hockey of the postseason. Their stars played like stars while Murray performed like a guy a decade older with his name already etched on the Cup a few times.

The Penguins will need to rely on Murray’s precocious maturity if it wants to buck a curious trend that started well before Murray was born. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a Game 7 on home ice since Mario Lemieux and company beat New Jersey in the opening round of the 1991 playoffs to escape from a 3-2 series deficit and propel the Penguins to their first championship. The Penguins have dropped five straight winner-take-all matchups since then, including a loss to Tampa Bay in the first round in 2011, a series Pittsburgh played without either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who sat out with injuries.

They’re healthy now and showing extended flashes of the form that seemed to have the Penguins on the brink of a dynasty when they toppled Detroit. And the Lightning, who are 5-1 in Game 7s, are hardly comfortable but hardly intimidated as they play on the road.

“I think it’s a roller coaster,” Cooper said. “But Game 7 is Game 7. There’s no two better words than that.”