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(BEN NELMS)
(BEN NELMS)

Canucks advance to Stanley Cup final Add to ...

The heroes were Kevin Bieksa, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler.

Bieksa scored in double overtime late Tuesday night to send the Vancouver Canucks to their first Stanley Cup final since 1994. The goal came 17 years to the day of Greg Adams's double-overtime winner to send the 1994 Canucks team to the fourth and final round of the NHL playoff tournament.

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After a weird bounce off the glass that left most players searching for the puck, the Canucks defenceman fired a rolling puck past San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi with nine minutes and 42 seconds left in the second extra session. Rogers Arena erupted, and green and blue confetti fell from the ceiling, even as the on-ice officials debated whether it was a permissible goal.

It was.

"It just kind of died in the slot, so I just stepped into it," Bieksa said after the 3-2 victory. "When it when in I yelled out 'Let's go to the Cup.' It's a good feeling."

Luongo made 54 saves against a ferocious Sharks team to allow Vancouver to win the NHL's Western Conference final in five games. It was his best game of the playoffs and one that should silence his doubters for at least a few days.

"I said to my family before this series started that this was what I've been waiting for my whole life," Luongo said. "I felt great the whole game. I was in the zone."

Kesler scored with 13.2 seconds remaining in regulation, and Luongo on the bench, to force extra time and to prevent a sixth game back in San Jose.

But there is more.

Both Bieksa and Kesler left the game with injuries, only to return. Bieksa left briefly in the third period after being tripped, while Kesler departed in the second period, putting no weight on his left leg and looking like his game, if not his postseason, was over.

"The doctors took care of me and got me back out there quickly," Kesler said. "It felt good to get that one."

Both players will go into Canucks lore, even more so if Vancouver becomes the first Canadian-based club to win the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. It becomes the first Canadian-based team to play for the Cup since the 2007 Ottawa Senators.

The Canucks will play whomever emerges from the Eastern Conference final between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston leads the series 3-2 heading into Game 6.

For a club that had let wounded opponents get off the mat in each of the last two series, the Canucks appeared to be doing the same late in the third period, when they trailed 2-1. But Kesler, who looked to be playing on a lame left leg, tipped a Henrik Sedin shot past Niemi, sending the Rogers Arena crowd into a frenzy, and sending the game into enthralling overtime sessions.

Vancouver had spoiled two opportunities to finish playoff opponents in Game 5 at Rogers Arena, having allowed the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators to extend their postseason lives for at least another game.

The would-be turning point came just 24 seconds into the third period, when captain Henrik Sedin misplayed a puck at his own blue line, setting up a 50/50 disc between Luongo and two Sharks in full flight. Luongo wasn't quick enough to get to it, and Joe Pavelski set up Devin Setoguchi for a goal into an empty net that made it 2-1 for the visitors.

Luongo did his utmost to keep the Canucks in the game, but the home side was outplayed and significantly outshot for a second straight game. The Sharks put 56 pucks on net compared to 34 for the Canucks, and the total over the final two games of the best-of-seven series was 91-47 in San Jose's favour. Luongo made some jaw-dropping stops in the extra period, robbing Kyle Wellwood with his glove hand, and blocking a deflected puck off the stick of Ian White.

The teams entered the third period tied 1-1 after the visitors finally broke through with a goal in the second period. Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard went to catch a Dan Boyle point shot and redirected the puck. The power-play goal was credited to Patrick Marleau, who had five goals in the series.

The Sharks deserved better than a 1-0 deficit after a frantic first period, but couldn't solve Luongo. The Canucks goaltender made some spectacular saves, including two on captain Joe Thornton, as his team was outshot 15-6.

The only goal came on a classic Sedin cycle in the corner. A between-the-legs pass from Daniel Sedin found his brother Henrik, who hit Alex Burrows for an easy tap-in goal. The twins were extraordinary in Game 5. They combined for just three points but were threatening on almost every shift.

"They were, without a doubt, their best line," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said. "They're tremendous players. They are so in-sync, it's almost uncanny how they read off each other."

The Canucks also killed off a two-man disadvantage that lasted one minute and 24 seconds, proving they not only score five-on-three goals, but are adept at preventing them. Vancouver set an NHL record in Game 4 by scoring three times with five-on-three power plays.

Follow on Twitter: @mattsekeres

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