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Failures on special teams put Sharks near extinction

by | CBS Sports
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Gone in a minute, 55 seconds.

The San Jose Sharks' hunt for their first entry into the Stanley Cup Finals appeared to fizzle in less time than it takes to microwave a frozen burrito, at least if you don't want to bite into icy refried beans. That's how long the Vancouver Canucks needed to become the first team in postseason history to score three goals on a 5-on-3, a span in the second period that anchored their 4-2 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday afternoon at HP Pavilion.

"I have never been in a game with that many 5-on-3s, [especially] as quick as that," said Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, who sat in the box after San Jose was penalized for too many men on the ice. "Obviously, they scored bang, bang, bang. I didn't know if we were in the box for 20 seconds and they had three goals. At that stage, it's just impossible to kill them off."

The Canucks, who failed to score in nearly two minutes on the two-man advantage in Game 3, needed only 37 seconds to put the game out of reach. High sticking (Dany Heatley), hooking (Torrey Mitchell), too many men on the ice, and delay of game (Douglas Murray cleared the puck over the glass) were all called in a three-minute span midway through the second period.

Game 4: Canucks-Sharks
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"Somehow, we just kept taking penalties, and you can't have that," San Jose forward Joe Pavelski said. "If you keep giving a team 5-on-3s, they are going to find a way to score. We just missed a few blocks and didn't win enough faceoffs. Our mentality is to shut them down, but it didn't happen."

Kesler scored on a one-timer and then Sami Salo -- who assisted on Kesler's tally -- scored on similar slap shots from the point to make it 3-0.

"We were smelling blood as a 5-on-3 unit," Canucks forward Alexandre Burrow said. "We talked about it after Game 3. We felt as a group we didn't do the job at the end of the second period to come back in that game."

The Canucks were a model of efficiency in Game 4. They put 13 shots on net -- the fewest amount by a Canucks squad in the playoffs -- and beat Sharks goalie Antti Niemi four times, the latter coming after Henrik Sedin passed the puck through Niemi's legs to Burrows for Vancouver's final marker in the third period.

"You are going to need some bounces," Niemi said. "We didn't get those like we did in last game."

That doesn't meant the Sharks didn't have chances, especially early. The Canucks were called for five penalties over the opening 22 minutes of play, although the Sharks -- who had scored on their first five power-play chances of the series -- looked out of sorts on the man advantage. The Canucks stacked up their four penalty killers at the blue line and the Sharks never looked settled when they did set things up.

"They tightened things up," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "They stood at their line a little bit better. But when you look at our execution -- our passing, our faceoff opportunities to win pucks -- we started breaking down. You have to, when you're against the number one penalty kill in the league, be sharp, and we weren't."

The Sharks had only seven shots on goal in 10 minutes of power-play time.

"I don't think they were momentum killers," Clowe said. "Obviously, we didn't build off of them. We drew a few penalties and I thought we were skating pretty good. The thing about that is when you get four or five penalties like that, you kind of had a feeling there would be one or two coming against you. It's the way it goes."

Had the Sharks scored on one of those opportunities, it would have made for an interesting final few minutes. A deflection by Andrew Desjardins and a Clowe wrist shot made it a two-goal game late in third, but that was as close as the Sharks would get.

San Jose played the final minutes minus captain Joe Thornton. He took a shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Canucks bruiser Raffi Torres midway through the third period and did not return. McLellan said afterward he had no update on Thornton, who entered the game tied as the playoff scoring leader.

Sedin, who added three assists in Game 4, exited with the scoring lead (19 points) and has the Canucks one victory away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 17 years.

It'll be a wrap if the Sharks -- who have allowed five two-man advantage situations over the past two games -- continue their generous ways.

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