By Allan Muir
Call it Raffi’s Revenge.
Early in Friday’s contest between Vancouver and San Jose, Sharks shift disturber Raffi Torres was robbed by Roberto Luongo. Blatantly, historically robbed. Torres’ one-timer was steaming into the open side and give San Jose a 2-0 lead until Luongo flopped across the crease and snared it with his glove. It was larceny of the highest degree.
So it was fitting that it was Torres who broke in with Brent Burns on a decisive two-on-one early in overtime of Game 2. And this time, when Burns’ pass slipped past the outstretched stick of Kevin Bieksa and landed right on Torres’ tape, there would be no miracle stop for the Canucks’ keeper. As Luongo slid to his right, Torres’ wrister beat him under the crossbar to seal a come-from-behind 3-2 win for the Sharks and snare a stunning 2-0 series lead.
Here are five quick thoughts after the game:
• What was Henrik Sedin thinking? With the final minute ticking off the clock and a 2-1 series-tying victory in sight, all he had to do with the loose puck he corralled in the Vancouver end was chip it off the boards and out of the zone. Simple. Instead, he fires it out of the corner directly into the slot. Seconds later, Dan Boyle sends a shot toward the net that trickles through Roberto Luongo’s pads, allowing Patrick Marleau to cash in the loose change.
Things haven’t gone well for either Sedin so far in this series, but it’s one thing to contribute little to Vancouver’s struggling offense. It’s another for the captain to commit the brain-dead defensive blunder that may have hastened the end of their season.
• It was another hard-luck night for Luongo who again was outstanding for the Canucks. When the team was flat through the first 30 minutes, he kept them alive with a series of big stops, including the one on Torres that the team’s PR department tweeted out to the world as The Save. He’ll take some heat for not getting all of Boyle’s shot on the tying marker, but as in Game 1, he was the least of Vancouver’s problems. Still, the Canucks need to change their mojo. If there’s any way for Cory Schneider to suit up for Game 3, he’ll be between the pipes.
• Apparently a couple of unnamed Sharks walking past a media scrum surrounding Ryan Kesler after this morning’s skate were overheard laughing and saying “There’s the beast!” After his invisible turn in Game 1 he earned the chirps, but poking the bear almost cost San Jose because Kesler–the real Kesler–finally arrived. This was Kesler at his 2011 playoffs best, fully engaged physically, dominant on the draw and lethal with the puck.
With the Canucks trailing and unable to find any traction midway through the contest, Kesler changed the momentum with a series of hits that left a trail of crumpled Sharks in his wake (he should probably send a card to the family of San Jose defenseman Justin Braun). And with the season on the line he provided the firepower, tying the game with a howler from the point on a power play that he drew, then giving Vancouver the lead off a brutal turnover later in the third.
It should have been enough to even the series. That it wasn’t is on the heads of his teammates who wouldn’t follow his lead.
• It’s hard to be critical of a win at this time of year, but San Jose coach Todd MacLellan has reason to be concerned after this one. The Sharks struggled with their defensive coverage all night, allowing multiple odd-man rushes, leaving Canucks unchecked down low, losing battles in the corner and making poor decisions in transition. It wasn’t the compete level so much as the execution that was missing. That’ll have to be addressed before game 3. So will a power play that went 0/5 and struggled to gain entry to the Vancouver zone, let alone generate any real sustained pressure.
• Antti Niemi was brilliant again tonight, making 31 stops in his typically economical fashion. But after watching him cleanly beaten twice by Kesler, I was wondering what, if anything, he should have done differently on those chances. Minutes later, Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild offered some insight about the challenges a goalie faces in that situation.
2nd goal on Niemi is a perfect example of why goaltending is a race against time. Challenge shot and gain depth? Less time to reach/react…—
The Goalie Guild (@TheGoalieGuild) May 04, 2013
…stay deep and set your feet? More time to track, more time to reach/react, but more time and space for shot to hit the spot.—
The Goalie Guild (@TheGoalieGuild) May 04, 2013
It’s an interesting take. Niemi’s strength seems to be his ability to lock in on the puck and quickly assess his options. In both of those cases, Kesler’s shots were just a little quicker. That’s going to happen on occasion, even to the best of ‘em.