The game, even though it was the 11th meaningful match the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks have played in 2013, did not have the tenor of a fierce rivalry.
The absence of oomph had the wags of the press box chattering throughout the Thursday night contest. “Is it me or is this boring?” wondered one during the first period. In the second, another reporter observed on Twitter that there was “surprisingly little feeling of edge to the game.” Another tweet joked that the teams “seem bored with each other. Spent too much time together.”
It was, indeed, already the teams’ fourth meeting of the season, with San Jose accounting for almost 20 per cent of the Canucks’ first 21 games – and in a quirk of the schedule, Thursday night in Vancouver was also the teams’ final regular-season contest.
At the end, San Jose won 2-1 in overtime, after tying the game with a minute left, and the victory elevates the Sharks to 12-2-5, tying the team for second in the Pacific Division with Phoenix. The winner was scored by Dan Boyle on the power play. Rookie Tomas Hertl scored the goal to tie, after San Jose pulled its goalie, and the Canucks opened the scoring with a rare power play goal, in the second from Kevin Bieksa.
The Canucks had killed 25 consecutive penalties, over almost eight games, before San Jose scored in overtime. Henrik Sedin, who was sent off for hooking, called it a "terrible call" after the game.
"Very tough," said Sedin of losing. "We should have had two points tonight. It sucks."
The description was something of a refrain. "Yeah, it sucks," said Bieksa. "That's the first thing that comes to mind."
Roberto Luongo echoed the sentiment. "We played a great game," he said, adding that the tying goal came off a rebound he considered a lucky bounce. "That's how close the NHL is."
It had been a good outing for the Canucks before losing and the latest result is illustrative of what people speak about when they discuss the difficult Pacific Division, stacked with some of the National Hockey League’s best teams. It is a situation the Canucks, and the other Pacific teams, will battle through the whole year and into the playoffs. Vancouver coach John Tortorella spoke to it directly, when asked on Wednesday after practice about playing strong teams such as San Jose or division-and-NHL-leading Anaheim.
“There’s such a fine line in winning and losing,” said Tortorella.
It is a fine line, even if it does not always look like a fine line.
One main oddity in the Canucks-Sharks rivalry – played hot or fairly flat, depending on the game – is the in-game action and the final results do not exactly reflect each other in the 2013 tilts.
The final tally is heavily in favour of the Sharks, winning nine of 10 games before Thursday, with almost double the goals, 35-19.
Yet in the category of puck possession, measured by all shots attempted, the Canucks have not been totally outplayed by the Sharks. When the teams have been at even strength, with the score within a goal, Vancouver has put 247 pucks at San Jose, compared with 219 against in the 10 games before Thursday.
Vancouver has had stronger puck possession in four of the games, and four have been basically even. The playoff sweep last spring is a good example: in two games Vancouver was stronger at even strength, and twice the teams were even – but the Canucks lost all four, two in overtime.
Of course, power plays were a factor last spring, but the numbers suggest Vancouver is much closer to San Jose than the win-loss record seems to say.
On Thursday, the Canucks were the stronger team on puck possession, ending regulation played with about 40 shots attempted compared with about 30 against at even-strength with the score close. Vancouver’s second line again was solid, the trio of Alex Burrows, Mike Santorelli and Chris Higgins clicking as they often have – though once more not scoring.
With the season series between the teams now already over, it feels there is unfinished business, particularly for Vancouver. The Canucks had been the ones, several years ago, that nearly reached the peak of Mt. Stanley Cup, taking out San Jose in the Western Conference finals 4-1, a series closer than the result showed, so the sweep last spring was payback. San Jose of course went on to go down in seven games to the Los Angeles Kings, a third team in a triangular rivalry with the Sharks and Canucks.
Kings defenceman Drew Doughty last week spoke of the ire between squads, saying of the Canucks, “They’re a team that frustrates us.”
There has been talk in Vancouver about not seeing much of the stars of the Eastern Conference, such as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, who make only rare appearances in Vancouver. But while the brightest lights might not be around Rogers Arena much, the regular visits of teams such as the Sharks and Kings makes for the type of rivalries on which sports thrive – even if on Thursday night the passion did not really run high.
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