SAN JOSE – The Canucks' decision to start Cory Schneider ahead of Roberto Luongo in net for Game 3 was met with a bit of a sigh of relief in the home locker room, according to Sharks captain Joe Thornton.
“We felt Lou was playing great,” Thornton said. “We felt we were lucky not to play against Lou, to be honest."
The first few minutes in the third period of the Sharks’ 5-2 win over Vancouver on Sunday night showed why.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks 5, Canucks 2]
Schneider allowed a soft goal to Logan Couture on a Sharks power play at 1:40, putting his team in a 3-1 hole and opening the floodgates. He surrendered a marker to Patrick Marleau falling down in the slot just nine seconds later on a stoppable shot, and then saw another power play shot from Couture go between his legs at 4:07 before leaving the game in favor of Luongo.
The Sharks cruised from there, and now own a commanding 3-0 series lead with a chance to put it away on Tuesday night at home.
Head coach Todd McLellan was asked how Vancouver’s goalie change, which was made public at Sunday’s morning skate, affected his team’s preparation.
“We tried to keep everything even keel,” McLellan said. “We prepared before the series for both goaltenders, and just refreshed our shooter’s minds of what they might see.”
The Sharks held a precarious 2-1 lead at the second intermission on a pair of goals from Joe Pavelski, but Thornton’s partial breakaway just before the break drew a cross-check on Jannik Hansen. The quick back-to-back goals from Couture and Marleau gave San Jose a 4-1 advantage, and the game was essentially over at that point.
Couture said: “When you score goals that quick, it’s tough on the bench, it’s tough on the goalie, and it ruins his confidence a little bit.”
“The back-to-back goals were a bit of a backbreaker, I would think. It worked in our favor,” McLellan said.
After squeaking past Vancouver in the first two games at Rogers Arena, there was no doubt which team was better in Game 3.
The Sharks were superior five-on-five, won the special teams battle with a franchise record-tying three power play goals, and were tight defensively in not allowing hardly any scoring chances.
Perhaps most importantly, the Sharks kept cool heads while the Canucks took minor after minor, making the zamboni driver work extra hard postgame to erase the trail of skate marks leading to the Vancouver penalty box.
The Canucks finished with 11 minor penalties compared to just four for San Jose, two of which were coincidental. The Sharks had an advantage for nearly 13 minutes to go with their three scores, while Vancouver failed to convert in four minutes of power play time.
Couture, who drew a high-sticking penalty on Henrik Sedin and then scored the Sharks’ fifth goal, said: “When they take penalties on you, I’ll take it all day. They can do whatever they want. They’re going to end up in the box, and I’ll gladly get a power play chance and try to score.”
“We didn’t need to get into that tonight,” said Pavelski of the Canucks’ lack of discipline.
Being at home, where the Sharks were 17-2-5 in the regular season, also gave the team a jolt.
“I heard [Pavelski] say something after the game that the fans almost become his legs sometimes, because they are so energizing,” McLellan said. “They are so excited about the game, and you kind of ride on that for awhile and they get us into the night. That certainly helps.”
“It’s a tough place to play here. It’s an intimidating place to come and play. We’re hard to play against at home,” Thornton said.
The Sharks will try and avoid having to return to Vancouver for Game 5. The last time they were ahead in a series three games to none, it took seven games to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in 2011. They have never swept a series in franchise history.
They expect the Canucks’ best on Tuesday night, regardless of who’s in net.
“Enjoy this for a couple minutes, come to the rink tomorrow, get ready for the next game,” Couture said of the next 48 hours. “They’re going to give everything they have, their season is on the line.”
Thornton said: “Game 4 is going to be the biggest game of the year for us.”