|SJS Lead Series 2 - 0|
VANCOUVER -- Down by a goal, with their net empty and their goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, the San Jose Sharks never panicked.
They've been through it too many times before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and while not all of those experiences have been positive, they paid off Friday.
Patrick Marleau tied the game with 55.1 seconds left in regulation and Antti Niemi on the bench, and Raffi Torres won it on a 2-on-1 with Brent Burns 5:31 into overtime, lifting the Sharks to a stunning 3-2 comeback win over the Vancouver Canucks, and giving San Jose a 2-0 stranglehold in the best-of-7.
"We're a bunch of veterans," said captain Joe Thornton, who opened the scoring midway through the first period and won a board battle to set up Marleau's marker. "All of us have played so many playoff games, the calmness is scary sometimes."
Now Vancouver is in a scary spot in this Western Conference Quarterfinal.
The Canucks are reeling -- not just another loss and another 2-0 deficit to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but also from the dramatic way Game 2 slipped through their fingers. Vancouver was one minute and a couple of inches away from evening the series before Marleau's quick shot from the low slot trickled through Luongo's pads, and the San Jose veteran knocked it in behind him.
"A heartbreaker, but that's what playoffs is all about," Luongo said.
Now the Canucks travel to San Jose in the same situation as last season: a two-game deficit in the first round after losing the first two at home. To send the series back to Vancouver, they have to find a way to win a game in San Jose, where the Sharks lost only twice in regulation in 24 games during the regular season.
It's a daunting task for a Canucks team that now hasn't beaten the Sharks in five meetings this year, and lost both regular season meetings in San Jose.
The odds seem longer when you consider Vancouver's postseason history since their 2011 trip to the Stanley Cup Final, something Torres was a part of. The Canucks have lost 10 of 12 playoff games dating back to the 2011 run, and six straight at home, only scoring 15 goals over those 12 postseason games.
Ryan Kesler, who is healthy in the playoffs for the first time since that Cup Final after three surgeries and the flu in Game 1, scored their only two in Game 2, tying the game on a power play early in the third period, and putting the Canucks up 2-1 after a turnover a little more than six minutes later.
"He was out best player by far," Luongo said. "We're going to need more of that heading into San Jose."
Despite seeing his heroics wasted, Kesler isn't ready to concede the series.
"We play the same way we did tonight, it's as easy as that," Kesler said when asked how they can overcome such a tough ending. "We deserved better. It's tough the way it ended, but saying that, we got to move on and focus on Game 3. It's 0-0 again and we can easily turn this series around with one game."
The Sharks, who like the Canucks are a veteran team facing the possibility of offseason changes should they not succeed in these playoffs, are expecting another push. But they are ready for it, and like their chances at home.
"We're very confident at home, but nothing is going to be easy," said goaltender Antti Niemi, who finished with a handful of great stops among 29 saves.
Luongo had even more among his 30 stops, including a headfirst dive and stretch to get his glove on an empty-net chance for Torres in the second period.
Torres, moved up to the second line with Logan Couture and Marleau in place of the injured Martin Havlat, wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
So when Alexander Edler, who hit the crossbar 1:14 into overtime, had his shot blocked by Burns, and he raced the other way, holding the puck all the way to the right circle before passing across, Torres lifted high it into the open net before a sprawling Luongo could get anything more than his pad across.
"They teach us as young kids, go to the net with your stick on the ice and your head down and be ready for anything," Torres said. "I didn't see it go in or anything like that. I just made sure my stick was on the ice and got some good wood on it."
Henrik Sedin couldn't say the same of his backhand attempt to get the Canucks out of their own zone in the final minute -- seconds after Jannik Hansen shot just wide of the empty net. The pass to Burrows in the slot was slightly off the mark, creating a turnover that was in the back of the Vancouver net seconds later.
That it was Marleau capitalizing seemed fitting to coach Todd McLellan.
"All I've seen him do in five years is score big goals in the playoffs," he said.
Beyond Kesler, the same cannot be said of the Canucks' top players lately. But Torres cautioned it is still too soon to write off his former teammates.
"Luongo has been great the first two games," Torres said. "He's given that team a chance to win. He's a great goalie. He does a hell of a job blocking all the garbage that is said about him. You know he will bounce back."
McLellan said his team has to prepare for Game 3 on Sunday night like all the Canucks will bounce back from the first two games of the series.
"We have to elevate our game if we're going to have success," he said. "There isn't any difference between the teams right now. It's a goal, it's a shot, it's a save -- maybe a penalty. They're that close. If one team gets a lot more desperate than the other, advantage to them."
The Sharks have been around long enough to know that. They've also never swept a series in their nine straight playoff appearances, but were talking like a team ready to add that feat to their postseason resume, wary of letting the Canucks up off the mat.
"It's tough to get one in this building so we are feeling good about ourselves, but this series is far from over," Torres said.
It just felt that way in Vancouver on Friday night.
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