The Vancouver Canucks (lead series 3-1) can punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 17 years tonight with a win over the San Jose Sharks in Game Five at Rogers Arena.
There were no handshakes exchanged at the end of Game Four as many Canucks fans who made the trip down to San Jose for the weekend had been hoping to see but the Canucks returned home with the next best thing which is a chance, in front of what is sure to be a raucous home crowd tonight, to officially secure that return trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.
If the Canucks want to finally put an end to seventeen years of waiting for their fan base, they’ll need to turn in their best effort of the series in Game Five knowing the Sharks – with their hopes of a first-ever berth in the Final slipping away – will do the exact same.
“The last one is always going to be the toughest one to win,” said Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo on Monday. “We want to make sure we treat tomorrow night like a Game 7 for us.”
The Canucks definitely didn’t have their strongest outing of the series in Game Four on Sunday even if the final score might suggest otherwise. Three 5-on-3 goals in a span of 1:55 in the second period on Sunday proved to be the difference-maker as Vancouver hung on for a 4-2 victory to give them a stranglehold on the series.
It could have been a much different story, however, had the Sharks managed to take advantage of the early power play opportunities the Canucks seemed more-than-willing to hand them. Vancouver took four minor penalties in the first period alone (five in the game overall) but managed to avoid disaster before striking quickly on their own man-advantage opportunities in the middle frame to put the game out of reach.
“It’s important,” said Canucks defenceman Sami Salo when asked if his team needed to be more disciplined in Game Five. “Obviously, you don’t want to take five penalties in a row and shoot yoursef in the leg that way.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Canucks’ Game Four win was that they managed to do so despite missing two key blue-liners in Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome. Dressing in their place were Keith Ballard and rookie Christopher Tanev, the latter who was appearing in his first career NHL playoff game and became the ninth different defencemen to dress for the Canucks in these playoffs. The good news for the Canucks is they may get Ehrhoff back for tonight’s tilt. Ehrhoff took part in an optional practice yesterday and will likely be a game-time decision.
“If it’s not ready to go, I obviously wouldn’t go,” said Ehrhoff on the upper body injury he sustained in Game Three on Friday. “That’s a decision we’ve got to make.”
For the Sharks, Joe Thornton is listed as questionable after being knocked out of Sunday’s contest in the third period by a Raffi Torres injury but it seems unlikely that the Sharks’ captain will sit out tonight with his team facing a do-or-die situation.
“I think it’s important that he does play the game,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan referring to his banged-up captain. “I think you’ll see a very good Joe Thornton.”
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Tonight’s game faces off at 6:00 pm PT and can be seen coast-to-coast in Canada on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and in French on RDS. Viewers in the United States can find the game on VERSUS. Listen live on the TEAM 1040 Sports Radio or online at teamradio.ca.