Posted: Wednesday May 25, 2011 2:20AM ; Updated: Wednesday May 25, 2011 11:04AM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Canucks dart to Stanley Cup Final with ugly Game 5 win over Sharks

Story Highlights

Kevin Bieksa's winner was hardly one that might prompt celebrations and confetti

Bieksa's double-OT goal sent the Canucks to the finals for the first time since '94

Joe Thornton was a star for the Sharks, gutting through a separated shoulder

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Bieksa sends Canucks to Cup finals
Source: SI
Kevin Bieksa scored in double overtime to win Game 5 3-2, eliminating the Sharks.

If you compare it to a car, the shot that won the Western Conference title for the Vancouver Canucks was a 1975 Dodge Dart, almost out of gas, the muffler scraping along the pavement into the service station as it arrives just in time. It was not the kind of goal one might expect to prompt confetti falling from the rafters and make a city rejoice in the streets.

But that's exactly what happened when Kevin Bieksa's dribbler-heard-round-the-world crossed the goal line 10 minutes, 18 seconds into the second overtime in Game 5 against the Sharks at Rogers Arena. His "shot" gave the Canucks their first conference championship since 1994, and they now await the winner of the Boston-Tampa Bay Eastern final to play for Lord Stanley's silver punchbowl.

About the only player on the ice who seemed to see the fateful final shot go in was Bieksa. Everybody else appeared to be looking for a phantom puck that was supposed to be going around the right dasher boards after Canucks defenseman Alex Edler had forehanded it to keep it in the Sharks' zone.

Canucks Sharks

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Instead of rimming around the glass, though, the puck hit a seam and caromed back to the blue line. While Sharks players such as Joe Pavelski and Kent Huskins in front of the net were looking at the glass on the other side for a puck that ultimately wasn't there, Bieksa was alert enough to one-time the rolling biscuit toward the net. Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was also confused as to where the puck went. He wasn't for long. It was too late by the time he realized where it was: in the lower right portion of the net.

As blue and green confetti fluttered to the ice, the Sharks were bewildered. They quickly looked to referees Stephen Walkon and Steve Kozari, hopeful of the play being reviewed. (Did it go out of play, would it be overturned?) But it became clear that the puck never actually went out of play, and it wouldn't have mattered if it had, because such plays are not eligible to be reviewed.

The "war room" in Toronto no doubt breathed a major sigh of relief after the goal, not because the Canucks won, but because it really should have counted, and the NHL doesn't have to forever listen to cries of injustice from the Sharks and their fans. (And, does anyone have any idea how long it would have taken to sweep up all that confetti and start the game again if the call had been overturned?)

For the Sharks, this was just the latest playoff punch to the gut.

While The Bridesmaids is cleaning up at movie-theater box offices, hockey's version is left to clean out their lockers in deep disappointment once again.

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The Sharks were all set to go merrily back to San Jose, still very much alive, leading 2-1 with the clock running down to under 20 seconds left in regulation. But that's when the game's two linesmen -- who are responsible for icing violations -- came into play. Sharks defender Dan Boyle wound up and cleared the puck out of San Jose's zone and down the ice, leading to an icing call.

Only it shouldn't have been icing.

Boyle's clearout actually hit the shoulder of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, which should have nullified any whistle. But linesmen Greg Devorski and Jay Sharrers missed it, setting up a face-off back in the Sharks' zone.

That's when Ryan Kesler -- who suffered a lower-body injury late in the second period and limped around for much of the rest of regulation -- won the draw back to Sedin, who put it on net. Kesler tipped it by Niemi with 14 seconds left to tie the game.

Despite the agonizing call, the Sharks actually carried play for much of the first OT, outshooting Vancouver 16-9. But Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo atoned for his third-period misjudgment of a puck that led to Devin Setoguchi's tie-breaking goal and was brilliant. He finished with 54 saves.

Nobody can ever accuse Sharks captain Joe Thornton of not being a playoff gamer. Thornton, it was revealed by coach Todd McLellan after the game, played with a separated right shoulder following a Game 4 hit from Raffi Torres. Thornton gutted his way through 32:15 of ice time, finishing with seven shots on net and a 56-percent success rate on 18 faceoffs.

If only his high-priced teammate, Dany Heatley, played with as much passion. Heatley finished an awful series with another goose egg on the score sheet, with zero power-play goals throughout the postseason. Heatley had several good scoring chances in the game but missed the net on every one. Oh, and he has three years and nearly $23 million left on his contract, Sharks fans.

The Canucks will be the favorites to win the Cup final against either possible opponent. While they have appeared vulnerable at times during these playoffs, they have so far summoned the fortitude to overcome any and all challenges. Sometimes they win pretty. Other times, like on Tuesday, they win as ugly an old Dart with a busted muffler.

Either way, the Canucks are going to the final. Doesn't get any prettier than that.

Three Stars

1. Roberto Luongo, Canucks: He made one error in judgment, coming late to a puck that would end up in the back of his net for a tie-breaking third-period goal. But "Bobby Lou" made up for it, finishing with 54 saves, including all 20 he saw in the two overtimes. Anyone want to say he can't win the big ones anymore?

2. Ryan Kesler, Canucks: Despite a lower-body injury in the second period that looked serious, Kesler came back to play a gutsy game, including scoring the tying goal with 14 seconds left following a key faceoff win. If the voting were held today for the Conn Smythe Trophy, Kesler would be your winner.

3. Joe Thornton, Sharks: Speaking of playing hurt, the Sharks' captain played Game 5 with a separated right shoulder. He played nearly 33 minutes and put seven shots on net.

 
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