2011 NHL Western Conference Finals Game 5 - Vancouver 3, San Jose 2 (2OT) – Canucks win series, 4-1
It was a fluke. It was beyond bizarre. It made no sense. It won’t be repeated in a million years.
It won’t matter one whit to a team, an organization, a city, a province, and a hockey-worshipping nation that are now four wins away from their shared holy grail.
Yes, on one of the flukiest, most ridiculously absurd series-clinching goals in the long history of postseason hockey, the Vancouver Canucks – a team under pressure and an organization with a snake-bitten history – chased away a lot of pressure and demons, reaching the Stanley Cup just one month after barely getting out of the first round alive against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks finally brushed back the specter of failure and have quite genuinely stamped this postseason as a modest success.
The win on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena, as big as it is for the local team, is even more important for the people of Vancouver and the province of British Columbia. The fact that the Canadian Olympic hockey team won the 2010 gold medal in Vancouver only magnified the lack of a Stanley Cup champion throughout the North American nation that cares about one sport as its sacred cultural treasure. No Canadian-based NHL team has lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, a reality that rather smoothly coincides with the fact that Vancouver had not reached the Cup finals since 1994, just one year after Les Habitants took Canada to the winner’s circle. This victory over the San Jose Sharks marks a profound point of catharsis for one team, but also for a whole country that lives under the banner of the red maple leaf. If the Canucks can defeat the Eastern Conference champion in the coming weeks, the outpouring of joy in every province will be defined by a kind of pride that’s impossible to adequately capture.
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That task can wait, however. The East champion has not yet been determined, so how about the way in which the Canucks did the deed against the Sharks, who lost in the West finals for the second straight season and the third time in as many tries.
First of all, the Sharks were just about to lock down a 2-1 win in the final half-minute of regulation. Vancouver was just a few dozen seconds away from losing its third straight Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead in these playoffs. The Sharks badly outshot Vancouver in the first 59 minutes and 30 seconds of play, more than doubling the Canucks to the tune of 48-22. However, Vancouver’s twenty-third shot was a beauty. Ryan Kesler, the best player for Vancouver in this postseason, found his way to the net and poked the puck past San Jose goalie Antti Niemi with 13 seconds left to blow the roof off the joint. The kind of goal that had so often cut against the Canucks over the decades broke in their direction. After a scoreless first overtime period in which Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo stood on his head – he finished with 54 saves – the crowning moment came for the Canucks and their long-suffering fans.
A Vancouver pass along the boards from the San Jose blue line was headed toward the right corner of the rink, but it hit a crease in the plexiglass and ricocheted back to the point. Only Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa saw this, while everyone else – including Niemi in net – had no clue about the location of the puck. Bieksa was able to put the dancing puck on net, and with Niemi looking to the corner expecting the puck to be there, he never saw the biscuit as it hopped into the basket. The Canucks mobbed each other in unrestrained joy. The Sharks, who fought hard and deserved a better result on Wednesday, could only lament their failures earlier in the series, which made this an elimination game instead of a 2-2 series going in.
Vancouver has won the West. Now, a team and a nation – and everyone who is part of this ride – can gear up for the final showdown, which will begin next week in the Pacific Northwest.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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