VANCOUVER -- As if 17 years since their last trip to the Stanley Cup final wasn’t long enough, the Vancouver Canucks had to wait a little longer.
The team that doesn’t like to do anything the easy way surprised nobody Tuesday by taking took the longest, scariest, most dramatic road possible to the Western Conference championship.
They looked paralysed by stage fright for the first 59 minutes, came moments away from total disaster, saved the day with seconds left in regulation and finally eliminated the San Jose Sharks on a freak goal in double overtime.
Basically a typical Vancouver playoff game.
Now they’re headed back to the big show, 17 years after their last visit, looking to complete 40 years worth of unfinished business.
Ryan Kesler’s game saver with 13.2 seconds left in regulation and Kevin Bieksa’s winnner at 9:42 of the second extra period gave them a 3-2 victory in Game 5 and a chance to pick up where Roger Neilson left off in 1982 and Trevor Linden in 1994.
“This is tough to put into words,” said captain Henrik Sedin. “The battles that we’ve been through, the ups and downs, to be in the Stanley Cup final is tough to even talk about (without getting emotional).
“Till we know who we’re playing, we’re going to celebrate.”
The winner was Hand of God kind of stuff, with everyone on the ice losing sight on a dump in that hit a stanchion and came straight to Bieksa, who put it home from the point before anyone knew what happened.
“I was probably the only guy in the rink who knew where the puck was and I just tried to put it on net,” said Bieksa. “After we scored guys were looking down the ice to make sure they weren’t going to wave it off or something, it seemed too good to be true.
“It was an ugly goal but it feels pretty good right now.”
Imagine how ugly it looks from San Jose.
“Everybody was looking behind the net,” said a dejected Patrick Marleau. “Somebody yelled that it’s at the point. I turned and he was already shooting it. That puck was going down the boards along the glass, I don’t know how it got across the ice like that.”
The Canucks, showing none of the urgency a sold-out crowd expected, were outshot 36-20 at the end of regulation and practically had their bags packed for Game 6 in San Jose.
Devin Setoguchi’s goal 24 seconds into the third period to make it 2-1 looked like it would force Game 6, but Ryan Kesler, hobbling around the ice on one leg, tied it with Roberto Luongo on the bench and just 13.2 seconds left in regulation.
“Great feeling,” said Kesler. “We finished off a pretty good team and we’re going to the Stanley Cup final.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “This is a great day for our team and our fans.”
Freak goals and last second winners are the kind of things that always used to go against Vancouver. They’ve been on the other end of it all spring.
Maybe this really is their year.
“I don’t know about destiny, we worked hard for our goals,” said Bieksa. “I thought we had a good series, we played these guys really hard. They’re a big strong physical team and we really showed up and competed and won a lot of the one-on-one battles, that’s why we’re sitting here right now.”
Sitting pretty, as it turns out.
“This is hard to describe,” said Alex Edler. “It was a long, tough game but we got it done. It’s a great feeling right now.”