The Western Conference final is going to be a series after all.
The San Jose Sharks made sure of that with a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Friday, and trail the NHL playoff series 2-1 going into Game 4 going Sunday afternoon.
Back on home ice after losing both games at Rogers Arena, the Sharks overwhelmed the Canucks in the first period, riding their red hot power play and the raucous crowd that typically makes the HP Pavilion a difficult place for visitors.
The Shark Tank was alive, and the Canucks were easy prey after taking three penalties in the opening seven minutes, including a double-minor on defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who cut Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell with a high-stick.
"They cost us the game," Canucks winger Daniel Sedin said of the early miscues. "We came back strong, but it wasn't enough."
Ehrhoff left the game after playing just three minutes and 35 seconds with an upper-body injury. He took a hard shoulder-to-shoulder check from San Jose's Jamie McGinn, one of three new Sharks who entered the lineup for Game 3.
Late in the third period, defenceman Aaron Rome joined Ehrhoff in the infirmary after taking a vicious hit from behind from McGinn. Head coach Alain Vigneault said both defencemen could miss Game 4, while Sharks head coach Todd McLellan conceded that the referees made the appropriate call by giving McGinn a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct.
Vigneault, however, was not pleased with the officiating overall, which saw San Jose get 10 power plays to Vancouver's seven. But he wouldn't elaborate because he said he risked a "big fine" from the league.
"I'm going to save my money," Vigneault said.
McLellan chose to dress an entirely new fourth line, benching Ben Eager, Scott Nichol and Benn Ferriero, and replacing them with McGinn, Andrew Desjardins and Jamal Mayers. Vigneault, meanwhile, decided to employ more muscle, perhaps anticipating a spillover from the bad blood that emerged in Game 2.
But minus the antagonist Eager, there was none of it, and Alexandre Bolduc and Tanner Glass made little difference in place of Cody Hodgson and Jeff Tambellini on the fourth line.
What did make a difference was special teams.
The Sharks scored three power-play goals, and are six-for-13 with the man advantage in the series. They scored on their first five power plays of the series, and Patrick Marleau scored twice and had three points. He has goals in four consecutive games, and San Jose has netted the first goal in six straight games.
"This was a very big one for him, and for his line," McLellan said of Marleau, Joe Thornton and Devon Setoguchi.
Marleau gave the home team a 1-0 lead less than four minutes in, while Ryane Clowe, who was called out by McLellan earlier in the series, made it 2-0 just eight minutes into the game. Marleau bumped the margin to 3-0 late in the first on a breakaway, one of just two even-strength goals on the night.
Vancouver's best chance to get back into the proceedings came in the second period. The Canucks had two separate five-on-three power plays, totaling one minute and 56 seconds, but failed to convert.
"We had really good, grade-A chances," centre Ryan Kesler said. "We had great chances, and their goalie stood on his head. That's it."
Sharks goalie Antti Niemi finished with 27 saves just one game after allowing seven goals.
The Canucks forged their comeback in the third, scoring three times and getting to within one goal with about four minutes remaining. Alex Burrows scored just 69 seconds into the period, while Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa scored after
But the Sharks quickly made it 4-1, again on the power play, when Dan Boyle ripped a point shot past Roberto Luongo with Kesler and Burrows in the box, both for tripping.
Rome left the game with blood streaming from his face, and after being tended to by Canucks doctors while laying on the ice. Should Ehrhoff and Rome be unavailable for Game 4, than the Canucks have Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts waiting in reserve.