VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Kevin Bieksa scored 10:18 into the second overtime and the Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years with a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks last night.
The Canucks ended the Western Conference finals in five games after getting even, 2-2, with 13.2 seconds left in regulation when Ryan Kesler scored with goalie Roberto Luongo on the Vancouver bench for an extra skater.
It will be Vancouver’s first trip to the Cup finals since 1994, when the Canucks lost in seven games to the New York Rangers. The last NHL team from Canada to win the title was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
Exactly 17 years to the day after they earned their previous trip to play for the Cup, the Canucks rode 54 saves from Luongo and a lucky bounce to Bieksa to advance to the finals for the third time in the team’s 40-year history.
The puck caromed awkwardly off the glass on the sideboards and out to Bieksa just inside the blue line. His quick shot beat Antti Niemi inside the right post before the goalie — or mostly everyone else on the ice — knew where the puck was.
Vancouver was down, 2-1, after Luongo’s gamble left Devin Setoguchi with an empty net 24 seconds into the third period. But Kesler, who left briefly in the second period with an apparent injury to his left leg, deflected Henrik Sedin’s shot through Niemi after a questionable icing call against San Jose. Replays appeared to show that the puck hit Daniel Sedin, but icing was called anyway to set up an offensive zone faceoff for Vancouver.
After claiming the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, the Canucks are four wins away from their first Stanley Cup title.
They will host Games 1 and 2 against either the Bruins or Lightning. Antti Niemi made 31 saves, including Chris Higgins’s breakaway in the second overtime, for the Sharks, who lost the West finals last year to Chicago in six games. Niemi was the goalie for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
It was Niemi’s first playoff loss in seven career series.
Alex Burrows opened the scoring eight minutes in for the Canucks, but Patrick Marleau tied it for San Jose with his sixth goal of the series on a power play midway through the second period. Setoguchi added his first into an empty net 24 seconds into the third after Luongo came diving out of his crease.
The Sharks, who were 5-0 in overtime in the playoffs, didn’t back off. After surviving an early flurry, San Jose fired 16 shots at Luongo in the first overtime, who made a great glove save off Kyle Wellwood in the slot.
Luongo was brilliant before and after Setoguchi’s goal, including the best of his 15 first-period saves while Vancouver killed a 1:24 two-man advantage.
Luongo made his best saves off Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who was playing through a shoulder injury that kept him out of the end of Game 4.