VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Kevin Bieksa scored 10:18 into the second overtime and the Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years with a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
The Canucks ended the Western Conference finals in five games after getting even 2-2 with 13.2 seconds left in regulation when Ryan Kesler scored with goalie Roberto Luongo on the Vancouver bench for an extra skater.
It will be Vancouver’s first trip to the Cup finals since 1994, when the Canucks lost in seven games to the New York Rangers. The last NHL team from Canada to win the title was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
Exactly 17 years day after they earned their previous trip to play for the Cup, the Canucks rode 54 saves from Luongo and a lucky bounce to Bieksa to advance to the finals for the third time in the team’s 40-year history.
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The puck caromed awkwardly off the glass on the sideboards and out to Bieksa just inside the blue line. His quick shot beat Antti Niemi inside the right post before the goalie -- or mostly everyone else on the ice -- could find the puck.
“The only guy who knew where that puck was, was Kevin Bieksa and he almost fanned on it,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s one of those things you have no control over. We can talk about it all we want. There is nothing we can do about it.”
Luongo raised his stick in celebration as his teammates jumped onto the ice. Blue confetti fell from the roof as the sellout crowd chanted, “We want the Cup.”
“I think when the puck went in, the goalie was looking behind the net,” Bieksa said. “It was an ugly goal, but one I will take.
“It’s fantastic. It’s unbelievable. To go to the Stanley Cup final is a dream come true.”
The Sharks outshot Vancouver 16-9 and 56-34 overall. Despite having a 91-47 shots advantage over the final two games of the series, San Jose lost both. The Canucks won Game 4 on Sunday 4-2 even though they recorded only 13 shots.
Vancouver was down 2-1 after Luongo’s gamble left Devin Setoguchi with an empty net 24 seconds into the third period. But Kesler, who left briefly in the second period with an apparent injury to his left leg, deflected Henrik Sedin’s shot through Niemi after a questionable icing call against San Jose. Replays appeared to show that the puck hit Daniel Sedin, but icing was called anyway to set up an offensive zone faceoff for Vancouver.
After claiming the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, the Canucks are only four wins away from their first Stanley Cup title.
They will host Games 1 and 2 against either the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 and can advance with a Game 6 win at Tampa Bay on Wednesday. If necessary, Game 7 would be in Boston on Friday.
Antti Niemi made 31 saves, including Chris Higgins’ breakaway in the second overtime, for the Sharks, who lost the West finals last year to Chicago in six games. Niemi was the goalie for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
It was Niemi’s first playoff loss in seven career series.
Alex Burrows opened the scoring eight minutes in for the Canucks, but Patrick Marleau tied it for San Jose with his sixth goal of the series on a power play midway through the second period. Setoguchi added his first into an empty net 24 seconds into the third after Luongo came diving out of his crease.
The Sharks, who were 5-0 in overtime in the playoffs, didn’t back off. After surviving an early flurry, San Jose fired 16 shots at Luongo in the first overtime, including a great glove save off Kyle Wellwood in the slot.
Luongo was brilliant before and after Setoguchi’s goal, including the best of his 15 first-period saves while Vancouver killed a 1:24 two-man advantage. The shots were 21-7 for the Sharks when Marleau’s power-play deflection tied it in the second period -- just as Kesler hobbled off after chasing a short-handed chance. Kesler, second in playoff scoring with 18 points, limped to the locker room favoring his left leg, but returned later in the period.
Luongo made his best saves off Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who was playing through a shoulder injury that kept him out of the end of Game 4. Luongo slid and stacked his pads stop to take away an empty net on a rebound.
San Jose loaded up its top line, moving rookie of the year finalist Logan Couture up to play with Thornton and Marleau. It almost paid off in the first two minutes, but Luongo robbed Marleau twice in close. Thornton couldn’t lift the second rebound over the fallen goalie, and the Canucks’ top line opened the scoring with some pretty passing six minutes later.
Notes: Vancouver’s last earned a spot in the Cup finals when Greg Adams scored in double overtime of Game 5 against Toronto on May 24, 1994. ... Vancouver D Christian Ehrhoff missed a second game because of a suspected shoulder injury sustained in Game 3. He practiced Monday and is day-to-day. D Aaron Rome, also knocked out in Game 3, missed a second straight game. ... San Jose D Jason Demers, out since Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals against Detroit, was ready to return but didn’t. ... The Canucks were swept 4-0 by the New York Islanders in 1982 in the team’s first trip to the Cup finals.