VANCOUVER (AP) — Defenseman Kevin Bieksa tied it 7:02 into the third period, Henrik Sedin scored on a power play 1:19 later, and the Vancouver Canucks came back to open their first Western Conference final in 17 years with a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.
Maxim Lapierre scored his first of these playoffs, and Roberto Luongo made 27 saves — and a brutal first period giveaway — for the Canucks. Game 2 is Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau scored, and Antti Niemi stopped 35 shots for the Sharks, coming off an emotional, draining Game 7 victory over Detroit on Thursday night.
San Jose took a 2-1 lead into the third period thanks to a goal on its only power play, and the gift from Luongo. But after failing to finish several great chances late in the second, Vancouver finally converted in the third.
Alex Burrows got behind Dan Boyle on a left wing rush and fed a pass across and back to a pinching Bieksa atop the right faceoff circle. Bieksa’s wrist shot that caught Niemi sliding left and went past his blocker on the other side.
Dany Heatley took an elbowing penalty 32 seconds later, and the Canucks’ power play, which looked terrible its first three chances after leading the NHL in the regular season, finally converted.
A point pass from former Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff got Niemi moving right, and Sedin, whose only other goal in these playoffs was into an empty net, skated onto it the other way, waiting for Niemi to slide past before tucking a backhand shot into the empty net.
San Jose, which almost blew a 3-0 series lead before beating Detroit, went up late in the first period thanks to a generous pass from Luongo to Thornton.
Luongo, who was felled by a teammate’s shot off the mask in the warmups, tried to pass the puck to the top of the left circle from behind the net. But Thornton stepped in front of it and fired his third playoff goal into an empty net.
Vancouver tied it 1:49 into the second period after Niemi’s pass was picked off on the boards and sent back behind the net to Jannik Hansen, who hit Lapierre cutting in front between two defenders for a quick shot past Niemi s glove.
But the Canucks, off since eliminating Nashville on Monday night, couldn’t convert the first three power plays of the game, failing to record even a shot on two.
San Jose wasted little time scoring on its first chance, with Marleau left alone in the slot to deflect Boyle’s point shot over Luongo’s glove. It was the second goal in two games for the oft-criticized Marleau, whose first point of the conference semifinals turned into the Game 7 winner.
For a while it looked as if Niemi would make it stand up as a second straight game winner, too. The Finnish stopper, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago last year, made a handful of highlight reel stops as the Canucks pushed for the tying goal late in the second period, robbing Ryan Kesler with his right pad during a wild scramble around the crease, and Hansen in alone with the left pad.
NOTES: San Jose D Jason Demers was a surprise late scratch because of an unidentified injury, and was replaced by Kent Huskins in his first game of these playoffs. F Benn Ferriero was replaced by Jamal Mayers on the Sharks’ fourth line after playing the previous seven games. Vancouver dressed big RW Victor Oreskovich on its fourth line in place of smaller speedster Jeff Tambellini, who made his playoff debut the final game against Nashville in the second round. … Vancouver LW Mikael Samuelsson, who plays the point on the first power play unit, still hasn’t skated since getting hurt in Game 5 of the conference semifinals.