VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks needed a strong third period to forget about a pair of gaffes and a dormant power play that could have put them in an early hole in the Western Conference Finals.
They got it.
Goals just 79 seconds apart from defenseman Kevin Bieksa and center Henrik Sedin on the power play proved to be enough to give the Canucks a 3-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, who have now lost five straight games in this round going back to a sweep last year at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was almost perfect through two periods, but the Canucks started to come hard at him late in the second and continued with the pressure in the third. He made a couple of dazzling saves late in the second, but he couldn't stop Bieksa's high far side shot from the right circle or Sedin's backhanded shot from the slot midway through the third period.
Niemi made 35 saves, including 24 on 25 shots in the first 40 minutes. Vancouver peppered him with 13 shots in the third period. Roberto Luongo made 27 saves, overcoming a giveaway that directly led to Joe Thornton's goal late in the first period.
Luongo faced only seven shots in the third period.
Bieksa scored the Canucks' second game-tying goal of the game 7:02 into the third period. Henrik Sedin dumped the puck down the left wing wall and into the corner. Alex Burrows chased it down and fed a diagonal crossing pass back to Bieksa in the right circle. He fired from there and beat Niemi.
Thirty-two seconds later, Dany Heatley was called elbowing Raffi Torres. Christian Ehrhoff found Henrik Sedin cutting to the slot from the left, and the Canucks' captain used his backhand to beat Niemi at 8:21 of the third period, giving the Canucks their first lead of the night.
Despite being down a goal after 40 minutes, the Canucks closed the second period in a dominant way and could have easily been tied or even ahead if it were not for Niemi's brilliance, as the Sharks' goaltender made back-to-back highlight-reel pad saves late in the second period to preserve the Sharks' one-goal lead.
During a wild scrum in front of San Jose's net, Niemi split out his right pad to stop Ryan Kesler's attempt at slamming the puck into the net with 2:40 left. Niemi made two more saves during that skirmish and then 45 seconds later used his left pad to stone Jannik Hansen's attempt at tying the game.
The Canucks had seven shots on goal over the final three minutes of the second period.
Niemi only allowed Maxim Lapierre's game-tying tip-in goal 1:49 into the second period. Hansen curled the puck around the left post and found Lapierre cutting to the slot. He split two Sharks' defenders, found the puck and tipped it past Niemi to tie the game at 1-1.
However, Patrick Marleau scored a power-play goal roughly seven minutes later to give the Sharks their second lead of the night.
Mason Raymond was called for holding Joe Pavelski in the offensive zone and a minute later Marleau scored. Dan Boyle snapped a shot toward the net from the left point and Marleau, untouched in the slot, was able to get a piece of it. The puck soared into the top right corner of the net, over Luongo's catching glove.
Luongo was responsible for giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Instead of leaving the puck for defenseman Dan Hamhuis or at the very least rimming it around the boards and up the left-wing wall, he made a tape-to-tape pass to Thornton, who was in the right circle.
Thornton quickly fired the puck into the net before Luongo could retreat to his crease. San Jose was outdueled in the faceoff circle by a 12-5 margin and outshot 11-10 in the period, but Luongo's gaffe gave them the lead with 1:13 to play before the first intermission.
Luongo slammed his stick on the dasher before heading to the dressing room for intermission. He made 20 saves through two periods.
Vancouver also wasted two power-play opportunities in the first period and another in the second, netting only three shots over the six minutes. The Canucks' power play fell to 1-for-21 on home ice in the playoffs after the second period. Their woes were exacerbated when Boyle and Marleau connected for the Sharks' power-play goal in the second period.
However, Sedin's power-play goal erased any concerns from the power play and was enough to give the Canucks a leg up in the series.