Canucks dig Sharks deeper playoff hole

With the margin of error ever so tight in the race for the playoffs, the Sharks made it even tougher on themselves with a 3-2 home loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

Coming into the game, the Sharks had 72 points, four behind the Canucks, who were tied with the Flames for second in the Pacific.

With the loss, the Sharks fall six points behind Vancouver in the division and six back of Winnipeg for the final wild card spot with time running out on their season.

The game-winning goal came early in the third period. On a Canucks’ 4-on-3 power play after Brent Burns took a high-sticking penalty, Radim Vrbata scored his second goal of the night. Off a face-off win, the Canucks outnumbered the Sharks down low and from point-blank range, Vrbata waited out Niemi, who was sprawled out of position.

Vrbata’s goal broke a 2-2 tie and brought the Canucks all the way back from a 2-0 deficit.

Said Joe Pavelski:

“It was our biggest game to date. We get the start we want and the lead and we gave it away. We’ve got to be better than that.”

San Jose had several opportunities to even up the game. Melker Karlsson‘s backhand bid at the net was stopped just short of the goal line. A few minutes later, Tomas Hertl‘s re-direction from close range went off the back of the far post and out. A late push with the net empty was also unsuccessful.

Photos by Thomas Mendoza/SFBay

But perhaps the biggest unfortunate moment came early in the third period. On a jam play and scramble at the net, Tommy Wingels appeared to have given the Sharks a 3-2 lead, but the referee blew the play dead and the goal was disallowed.

Wingels described what he saw on the play:

“He blew the whistle. I thought it was loose. [That’s] why I whacked it in. [The referee] was pretty decisive in his actions. As players, that’s what you want the referee to do; be decisive, don’t waffle back and forth. I thought it was a good goal, but he blew the whistle.”

It was as if someone had sealed off the net after the first period.

The Sharks came out with considerable energy and liveliness in an action-packed first. Perhaps they were sparked by an early line brawl that began when Derek Dorsett shoved Brenden Dillon face-first into the boards. John Scott jumped in, and it took off from there. Sticks and gloves were strewn all over the ice and multiple fights ensued.

When it was all said and done, the Sharks were charged with an extra penalty, but killed off the Canucks’ power play.

The energy translated into two first period goals.

Melker Karlsson notched his 11th goal of the season at the 7:58 mark. A shot from the right point by Marc-Edouard Vlasic generated a rebound right to the stick of Karlsson, who popped it over Lack’s glove and in. Joe Thornton, who picked up the second assist, started the play by keeping in a clear attempt by Canucks’ goaltender Eddie Lack.

Four minutes later, the Sharks extended the lead to 2-0 on a power play marker by Thornton, who had an open net to shoot at after Joe Pavelski’s shot deflected off Brent Burns to Thornton on the other side with Lack out of position.

But that’s all they would get, which Wingels lamented:

“I liked a lot of aspects of our game. I thought we were aggressive, got pucks deep. We were taking it to the net and got a lot of second and third opportunities. We weren’t able to get the third or fourth goal to put them away.”

The auspicious start, however, would soon be erased.

The Canucks responded with under a minute left in the period on a goal by the veteran Radim Vrbata. Vrbata eluded Burns at the blue line, received the puck back from Nick Bonino, and stuffed it past Niemi on the near side, cutting the Sharks’ lead in half at the end of the first period.

Vancouver would even the score heading into the third with the lone goal of the second period. The puck jumped over the stick of Burns at the Canucks’ blue line; Burns lost a footrace to the Canucks’ Bo Horvat, who streaked in and beat Niemi on the break.

Head coach Todd McLellan cited bad luck as a reason for the loss:

“I thought we had control of the game until we turned the puck over late in the first. I didn’t think we had any luck on both sides of the puck when it really came down to it, whether it was defensively when it bounced over sticks for a breakaway or offensively the number of times when it hit the posts or the back of them and didn’t go in.”

The Sharks outshot the Canucks 13-10 in the period, and had the better scoring opportunities, but could not convert. Midway through the period, Patrick Marleau missed a wide-open tap-in on a gaping net after a nice set-up by Scott Hannan on a 2-on-1.

It was a gaffe that proved costly, and combined with the other missed opportunities, likely cost the Sharks a point at minimum, which would have been pivotal in this playoff race.

Instead, they fall back, a chance for consecutive wins over a team ahead of them wasted.

Wingels summed up the frustration:

“It’s painful because it’s the team we’re chasing in the standings. These opportunities – there’s not too many more of these. They slip away, so we’re pretty disappointed in not getting two points.”

Notes

Before the game, the Sharks recalled defenseman Taylor Fedun from Worcester after Matt Irwin sustained an injury during practice on Friday. Fedun did not suit up, however; Scott Hannan replaced Fedun in the lineup. … The Sharks drop the season series 3-2 to the Canucks. They defeated Vancouver on Tuesday on the road. … The Sharks are 46-44-9-5 all-time against Vancouver. … San Jose’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, as they play Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Chicago at home next week. … Attendance tonight was 17,562, a sellout.