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Canucks clinch Cup berth with a bit of controversy

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's been 17 years since the Vancouver Canucks earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, so it's unlikely you'll be hearing any apologies from them about how they got back to hockey's biggest stage.

The Canucks earned a 3-2 double-overtime win over the visiting San Jose Sharks on Tuesday in a game that featured a couple of bizarre twists of fate.

While Vancouver's winning goal in Game 5 was the product of a lucky bounce, the Canucks were fortunate to even be playing in overtime at all. A blown call by officials led to Vancouver tying the contest late in regulation, while also adding to the type of suffering San Jose fans have become accustomed to this time of year.

With a 2-1 lead and time winding down in regulation, it seemed that the Sharks were on their way to a victory that would have set up a Game 6 in San Jose. Instead, the Canucks' Ryan Kesler scored with 14 ticks left in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Kesler's tying goal is not the source of the controversy. The tally was a product of hard work in front of the net by the center, who also won the faceoff before finishing the play with a deflection.

The Canucks were certainly prepared to take advantage of their opportunities.
The fuss is about why Vancouver was given an offensive zone faceoff in the first place. On the previous stoppage the Sharks were called for icing, but replays appear to show that the puck actually hit a Vancouver player before exiting the Sharks' zone. Had the icing been waved off, precious time would've ticked off the clock and the Canucks likely would not have been able to set up the game-tying goal.

Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle -- the player who cleared the puck on the icing call -- didn't know that the puck hit Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the shoulder before exiting the zone, and he was not happy when a reporter let him know about it after the game.

"I didn't know that until right now and it pisses me off even more now," Boyle said.

But Sharks head coach Todd McLellan and several of his players noticed the puck hitting off Sedin. They pled their case to the officials before the faceoff, but to no avail.

"We were yelling and screaming, but it wasn't going to change," McLellan said. "It was an icing call that went off of, I believe, one of the Sedin's shoulders. It happens real fast. Maybe hard to catch with the naked eye. Obviously an error. But there's nothing we're doing about it now."

In the officials' defense, with Sedin's back almost completely against the boards, the call was not the easiest one to make. The best replay is from a camera angle that is behind Sedin, and it showed the puck glancing off his shoulder and passing between his body and the boards.

While the icing call was negligent, the OT-winning goal by Kevin Bieksa was just pure bad luck for the Sharks. Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler, trying to play the puck up the right boards, had it deflect off a partition instead. Just about everybody on the ice, including Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi, thought the puck was heading around the boards and into the corner, but Bieksa saw the disc bounce right to him near the blue line.

The Canucks defenseman sent an ugly-looking shot on net and it went in, primarily because Niemi was looking over his right shoulder to try and locate the puck. By the time Niemi looked back up ice, Bieksa's knuckling shot was just passing the goalie's left pad.

"It's an ugly goal, but definitely one I'll take," Bieksa said.

Bieksa is right, of course, because he and the Canucks have nothing to be ashamed about. They were outplayed by the Sharks in Game 5, but goaltender Roberto Luongo was able to save the day by making 54 saves on 56 shots. He stopped 20 shots during the overtime periods.

San Jose had tons of chances to end the game before Bieksa took advantage of the lucky bounce and were unable to do so. Even the botched icing call didn't exactly hand Vancouver the chance to win the game. The Canucks shouldn't of had the offensive zone draw, but they won the faceoff and scored a goal before the remaining 14 seconds ran out. That's still an impressive and clutch series of events.

If Game 5 tells us anything, it's that the Canucks are a resilient team that is capable of capitalizing on its opportunities. The Presidents' Trophy winners hope they can continue that trend when they face either Boston or Tampa Bay in the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals.

It's okay to feel bad for the Sharks, who once again failed to get the franchise's first berth in the Cup Finals, but that doesn't mean the Canucks shouldn't be proud of their accomplishment.

The Canucks were the NHL's best team all season long and a club that earned most of its breaks.

As the old saying goes, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity". The Canucks were certainly prepared to take advantage of their opportunities on Tuesday, and for that they have nothing to apologize for.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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