SAN JOSE – It was a question that had to be asked, even though the non-answer was all too predictable.
Who will start in net for the Canucks in Tuesday's Game 4, with their season on the line?
“I never announce my starting goaltender until the day before,” head coach Alain Vigneault said after his club's 5-2 loss in Game 3. “So, I'm not going to change that.”
The decision to start Cory Schneider ahead of an effective Roberto Luongo, who played well in the first two games of the series, was understandable in that the Canucks played better in front of Schneider this season than they did Luongo (despite what Joe Thornton said after Game 3). Not to mention, Vigneault was trying to spark his team after two heartbreaking defeats at Rogers Arena.
But, regardless of Vancouver’s goaltender, the Canucks’ failure to score has been their biggest flaw. In their last 11 playoff games, the Canucks have just 16 goals. They are being outscored 11-5 in the series.
“I would say it's tougher to score in the playoffs,” Vignealut said. “But, I believe we have the skill to score the right amount of goals. I guess we didn't prove it tonight.”
As it’s done most of the season, San Jose played a strong defensive game in front of goalie Antti Niemi, who was rarely tested in Game 3.
“The d-corps play well. As a group of six, I thought they played well,” Todd McLellan said. “Vancouver has got a very heavy forecheck and they came at us hard, and they hemmed us in at times, but we were calm and took away some important ice for them.”
By Thornton’s count, the Canucks had only about “half a dozen” scoring chances.
“When they did, Nemo was there,” said the captain. “We play good defense, and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”
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Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau’s goals nine second apart in the third period were, surprisingly, not a franchise record for the two quickest playoff goals in franchise history. On April 30, 1998, John MacLean and Ron Sutter scored eight seconds apart in a 3-2 loss at Dallas.
Couture is now tied for the NHL lead in scoring with six points (3g, 3a) with teammate Joe Pavelski (2g, 4a) and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Couture and Marleau’s three goals are tied for the league lead with the Penguins’ Pascal Dupuis and Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Couture became the fourth Sharks player to have a four-point game in the playoffs, and the fourth different Shark to have two power play goals in a playoff game.
Want more? Couture won 15 of his 18 faceoffs (83 percent), beating Henrik Sedin 11 of 13 times. (Shoutout to @SharksStats for some of those numbers).
I asked the 24-year-old if he realizes this could be his time to really make a name for himself in front of a large playoff audience both in the U.S. and Canada, and if it gives him more of a jolt.
“There’s a lot on my mind. Obviously, I want to win the series and I want to play well,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people watching. It’s playoffs, and everyone takes it really seriously, everyone watches. There’s a lot going into this series, but the number one goal is to have us move on. That’s the main thing on my mind.”
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McLellan’s message to his team on Monday will be an easy one to deliver.
“I will remind them that the last time we were in this situation, we had to play seven. There’s a lot of hockey left between these two teams. A lot.”
The Sharks were up three games to none on Detroit in 2011, lost the next three, and won Game 7 at home before bowing out to the Canucks in the Western Conference finals.
Only three teams have erased a 3-0 series hole in a best-of-seven series in NHL history – the 1942 Maple Leafs, the 1975 Islanders, and the 2010 Flyers.
Of the 172 teams that have taken a 3-0 lead, 169 have prevailed.
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Some other noteables from Game 3:
Marc-Edouard Vlasic played in his 71st career playoff game, tying Mike Rathje for the most playoff games all-time by a defenseman for the franchise. … Justin Braun’s assist on Patrick Marleau’s goal was his first career postseason point. … Ditto for Matt Irwin, who assisted on one of Couture’s power play goals.