LeBrun's Game 1 wrap: Canucks win third-period and third-line battles
The two best teams in the NHL dropped the puck for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in Vancouver on Sunday and here's what we observed from the Canucks' come-from-behind 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks:
• The general thinking was before this series was that the Canucks would really miss Manny Malhotra on such a big stage. The Sharks entered the series believing they had a sizeable third-line edge with Team USA Olympian Joe Pavelski between Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell. It's only one game, but that third-line edge did not materialize for San Jose Sunday night. Meanwhile, Vancouver's third-line unit was fantastic. Maxim Lapierre opened Vancouver's scoring, while his linemates Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres had a terrific night on both sides of the puck. The line was also a combined plus-3, while Pavelski's unit was a minus-3.
• The Sedin twins were facing huge pressure to deliver in the West finals after an up-and-down opening two rounds. Henrik Sedin's game-winner on the power play at 8:21 of the third period will help take a bit of that pressure off. Daniel Sedin also had a game-high six shots on goal.
• The entire Canucks team really pushed hard in the third period, outshooting the Sharks 13-7 and scoring twice to erase San Jose's 2-1 lead. The Sharks never showed any pushback in the final frame. Was it the cumulative effect and fatigue of that tough seven-game second-round against Detroit? Perhaps, but let's not discredit Vancouver's big-time push in the third; championship teams raise the bar in the third period. Still, the two off days before Wednesday's Game 2 will better benefit San Jose.
• The Canucks' blue-line corps showed itself to be a more mobile group in Game 1, and I suspect that's going to be a theme in this series. When the pace picked up in the third period, San Jose's six-man unit seemed to struggle to keep up. Both in mobility and transition, Vancouver's defensive corps is one of the team's great strengths and that showed Sunday.
• Conn Smythe candidate Joe Thornton had another solid outing despite his team's loss, registering a goal and an assist and tying for the team lead with five shots on goal. The Canucks want to match up with Thornton using fellow playoff MVP candidate Ryan Kesler, which is a tough assignment. But after facing either Pavel Datsyuk and/or Henrik Zetterberg in the second round, I think Thornton can handle any matchup.
• Vancouver outshot San Jose 38-29 and the Sharks have now given up 122 shots in their past three games, an alarming number. You can't keep giving up 40 shots a game and expect to win this late in the playoffs.
• Logan Couture's line with Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe was held in check, which goes a long way toward beating the Sharks these days. Couture had a decent game with five shots on goal, but Heatley and Clowe had quiet evenings. They need to pick it up next game. Clowe has been one of San Jose's most important players in these playoffs. He didn't have his usual impact Sunday.
• For an opener, Game 1 had some serious pace. I didn't think anything could match what I saw in the Detroit-San Jose second-round series, but it looks like we might see that kind of high-end pace again in the West finals. Can't wait to get to Vancouver on Tuesday!