Cullen: Luongo stars as Canucks clinch trip to Final

Scott Cullen

5/25/2011 1:43:03 AM

The series-winning goal by Kevin Bieksa came off a bizarre bounce, but it doesn't matter how they go in, just how many and the Canucks' 3-2 double-overtime win in Game Five of the Western Conference Final means that Vancouver is going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.

Bieksa, who scored six goals in 66 regular season games, led the Canucks with four goals in the series, giving him five in 18 playoff games.

While Vancouver certainly had chances throughout the 90 minutes of action, the Sharks controlled the play consistently, outshooting the Canucks 56-34, but Roberto Luongo turned in an impressive 54-save performance to give the Canucks a chance.

The last time Luongo made as many saves in a game was May 3, 2007 at Anaheim when he stopped 56 shots in a loss. The last win for Luongo with as many saves was three weeks earlier, April 11, 2007 when he made 72 saves in a quadruple-OT win over Dallas.

There were plenty of heroes for the Canucks in the clinching game, not the least of whom would be centre Ryan Kesler, who suffered a lower body injury of some sort earlier in the game but, even though his skating was noticeably hindered, he scored the tying goal with 14 seconds left -- deflecting a Henrik Sedin shot -- to keep the Canucks' hopes alive.

(That Vancouver even had a chance to tie the game was rather fortuitous, after Dan Boyle's clearing attempt was called icing even though it hit Daniel Sedin before going the length of the ice.)

Henrik Sedin had two more assists in Game Five, giving him 11 assists and 12 points in the five-game series. Daniel Sedin was the second-highest scoring Canuck in the series with six points.

Despite suffering a separated shoulder in Game Four, San Jose's Joe Thornton led the Sharks with seven shots on goal in Game Five and took 18 face-offs, winning 10. Nevertheless, Thornton, Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray were each minus-2 for the Sharks.

Thornton finished the series with six points, one behind Patrick Marleau, who led the Sharks with five goals and seven points. Defenceman Dan Boyle had five points. Joe Pavelski, who had one point in the previous six games, assisted on both Sharks goals in Game Five, giving him three points for the series.

Aside from those four, the rest of the Sharks -- including Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley -- had two points or fewer in five games against the Canucks.

Setoguchi did score a go-ahead goal early in the third period of Game Five, which could have been the game-winner if not for Kesler's heroics, and had a game-high nine hits for the Sharks.

Antti Niemi lost his first playoff series, after winning the first six of his career, and his numbers against Vancouver weren't pretty: his 3.37 goals against average and .869 save percentage paled in comparison to Roberto Luongo's 2.37 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

The Canucks, as expected, now make their way to the Stanley Cup Final, ready to take on the winner of Boston and Tampa Bay. If the Canucks -- most notably Kesler and defenceman Christian Ehrhoff -- can get healthy, they will not only be going to the Cup Final, they'll also be favoured to win.

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