VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Clinging to a one-goal lead with less than a minute to play, the Canucks got caught on an icing without a center to take a crucial faceoff in their own zone.
The Sharks had already pulled goalie Antti Niemi for an extra attacker as Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, unable to change his personnel, called a timeout to rest his players.
That’s when captain Henrik Sedin, a center, made a unique suggestion.
“Hank turned over to me and looked at me on the bench and said, ‘Let me switch sweaters with [identical twin brother] Danny [a winger],’ ’’ Vigneault said. “I got a big grin out of that.’’
It was easy for the Canucks and their top-line twins to smile last night.
Criticized for their playoff struggles, Henrik helped set up Kevin Bieksa’s tying goal 7:02 into the third period, and scored the winner on a power play 1:19 later as Vancouver came back to open its first Western Conference finals in 17 years with a 3-2 victory over San Jose.
Not that the Sedins, who won the last two NHL scoring titles, were worried about criticism after just 2 goals, 7 points, and a minus-10 rating in the conference semifinals against Nashville.
“We know when we are not playing well,’’ Henrik said. “We don’t have to hear that from everyone else.’’
They will only hear praise after Game 1 of their first conference finals.
San Jose took a 2-1 lead into the third period thanks to Patrick Marleau’s goal on its only power play, and a gift goal for Joe Thornton off the stick of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. But after failing to finish several great chances late in the second, Vancouver converted in the third.
Alex Burrows skated onto Henrik’s chip pass and behind Dan Boyle on a left wing rush before feeding a pass across and back to a pinching Bieksa for a shot past Niemi’s blocker.
Dany Heatley took an elbowing penalty 32 seconds later, and the Canucks’ power play, which looked terrible its first three chances after leading the NHL in the regular season, also woke up. A point pass from former Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff got Niemi moving right, and Sedin skated onto it the other way, waiting for Niemi to slide past before tucking a backhand shot into the empty net.
“The twins get going like that, they are almost unstoppable,’’ Bieksa said.
It was the third time in four games the Sharks had failed to hold a third-period lead.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Vancouver.