VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo and Anti Niemi were both brilliant Friday night in game two of this series. Both goalies flashed pads and gloves in stopping first, second and sometimes third chances at the puck.
In front of each goalie, the sides were equally engaged as opposed to game one when the Canucks were clearly not involved in the match. This time there were good hits, clean checks, solid playmaking, and excellent scoring chances for both clubs.
This was an exciting game from the opening faceoff to final red light in overtime.
Once again the Vancouver faithful chanted “LOU…….LOU……..LOU” through regulation and into extra time. He deserved every chant and moment of adulation as he stopped quality scoring chances by the Sharks. The difference this night was his defense clearing out the low slot to limit the second chance effort.
Despite that effort, Joe Thornton was the first to find the back of the net for San Jose in the first. The goal came in the 13th minute of the period after the puck had pinballed around and Luongo made at least two saves on the play. Thornton skated through the slot and found the puck on the right side and buried it with a writer.
After a scoreless second, the game became the Ryan Kesler show as he knotted the score at one less than a minute into the period. His shot was a one timer from the blue line and went through legs, sticks and Niemi for the tying marker. For the Canucks, their cycling worked to perfection on the goal.
His second of the night came about seven minutes later when the Sharks gave the puck away in the mid slot. Kesler stepped into the shot and blasted the slap shot past Niemi’s blocker for the 2-1 lead.
“He was out best player by far,” Luongo told NHL.com. “We’re going to need more of that heading into San Jose.”
Luongo protected that lead until the final minute of regulation. With the empty net at one end, the Sharks’ Patrick Marleau played hero when he batted in a loose puck with 55 seconds left in the game.
“We’re a bunch of veterans,” Joe Thornton said on NHL.com, “All of us have played so many playoff games, the calmness is scary sometimes.”
With the game heading to overtime there was no clear favorite considering the effort from both sides.
But with 5:31 gone in the extra session, the Canucks had been pressing the Sharks zone when Brent Burns found the puck at his feet and broke up the far boards. Holding the puck and freezing the Canucks Kevin Bieksa he sent a strong pass to Raffi Torres who streaked in on the left side. Torres needed only to angle the blade of his stick to catch and release the pass and send it past Luongo for the game winner.
“They teach us as young kids, go to the net with your stick on the ice and your head down and be ready for anything,” Torres said on NHL.com. “I didn’t see it go in or anything like that. I just made sure my stick was on the ice and got some good wood on it.”
Now the series heads to San Jose with the Sharks holding the home ice advantage and the Canucks searching for answers.
While it was once fashionable to deride Roberto Luongo and his troubles in Vancouver it is difficult to see a way clear to such now. He has played two magnificent games in this series and played well enough to have earned the victories. But his team never showed in game one and in game two they let him down at critical points by not taking the body. This was a team loss Friday night and a team-driven disaster Wednesday night.
It may be true that Luongo needs to pitch shutouts for the Canucks to advance.
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