WCF Game 5: San Jose Sharks season ends on fluke bounce in double overtime, fluttering Kevin Bieksa shot gives Vancouver Canucks first berth in Stanley Cup Finals since 1993-94

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Players on the ice for both teams were confused. Joe Pavelski signaled with an arm in the air that an Alexander Edler dump-in had gone off the netting. In double overtime tied 2-2, Vancouver and San Jose players on the ice let up but play was still live. The puck bounced off the metal stanchion between panes of glass and deflected directly to defenseman Kevin Bieksa on the left point. While both Canadian and American national television broadcasts missed the actual shot, Bieksa wound up and mishit a fluttering attempt on goal. Like a topspin forehand in tennis, the puck bounced end over end twice before sneaking inside the four inches between an unaware Antti Niemi and the far post.

“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t flub it into the corner, just put it somewhere on net and luckily it got there… barely,” Kevin Bieksa said of the game winning strike in double overtime of game 5 Tuesday night. “It took a couple of bounces. If it was maybe a couple of more minutes later in the period and more snow on the ice, it might not of got there,” Bieksa said. “It’s just a great feeling.” Alternate captain Ryan Kesler returned from a leg injury suffered midway through the second period to score the game tying goal with 14 seconds left in regulation, but Bieksa’s double OT goal sends a hockey mad Vancouver city to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1993-94.

Several Sharks described a mix of shock and frustration after the fluke game winning bounce, but goaltender Antti Niemi was firmly in the shock camp. “It was one of the weirdest goals ever scored against me,” Niemi said of Bieksa’s game winner. After winning a Stanley Cup in (technically not) his rookie season last year, Niemi suffered his first playoff series loss in 7 opportunities against Vancouver. Trying to track the puck on the game winning play in double overtime was difficult. “I saw the puck bounce somewhere up,” Niemi said. “I looked back for a second and didn’t see the puck there, then I looked back in front and I didn’t see the puck there. Then I just saw it going by, really quickly.” It was the Canucks 5th shot in overtime, 34th of the game. Up until that point Niemi had let in only two. San Jose outshot Vancouver 56-34 for the game, but in crunch time they came up short.

It took a few seconds for the game winning goal to register on the ice and in the stands. A leaping Alexander Burrows behind the net preceeded the goal horn and the ensuing roar from the crowd at Rogers Arena. Burrows embraced Henrik Sedin at center ice as the referees huddled near the bench and tried to figure out what happened. Bieksa flung out his arms then joined his teammates as they converged on goaltender Roberto Luongo. While both Canadian and American television broadcasts discussed the non-reviewability of a puck going off the nettting, San Jose players and coaches realized that their season was over. Todd McLellan and his staff congratulated the Vancouver coaches and the Sharks players skated to center ice for the traditional handshake line.

“Let’s go to the Cup. Let’s go to the Cup Finals, that is the first thing that I thought about,” Bieksa told Elliotte Friedman of CBC in a post-game interview at center ice. “You work so hard your whole life. To do it with this group of guys, can’t wait to get there.” As the Canucks gathered at their blueline, the sterling silver Clarence Campbell Western Conference Championship bowl was brought out for NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Vancouver Canucks team captain Henrik Sedin. The will he/won’t he touch the trophy question came up. Henrik did not follow Bill Daly’s lead to pose for a photo touching the trophy. Many players only want to raise the Stanley Cup.

The Sharks could only watch. They have struggled with playoff questions going on 7 straight years. Those questions will remain this offseason. Underachieving is too light a word. Unlike a tight, defensively responsible second half of the season where they put forth the best record in hockey, San Jose struggled to maintain playoff composure and playoff discipline in all three playoff rounds. Third period performances were abysmal. There will be serious soul searching to determine what went wrong, and almost assuredly significant chances. “It was one of the most frustrating losses in my career,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. Team captain Joe Thornton, who played 18:34 in game 5 with an admitted seperated shoulder, believes the Sharks will be right back in the hunt next season. “We still got a lot of years. Our core group still has three years left, we’ll come back and be more hungry next year,” Thornton said.

“To get here is an accomplishment, but next year we got to beat it.”

[Update] Video: Breaking down the magic bounces of Kevin Bieksa’s series-winning goal – NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk.

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