The San Jose Sharks had a comfortable three-goal lead in the third period Friday night when McGinn, in the lineup for only the fifth time in these playoffs, replacing the penalty-prone Ben Eager(notes) at left wing, laid a crushing hit on Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome(notes) and left him collapsed in the corner, bleeding.
The previous game had spiraled out of control for the Sharks largely because Eager had paraded to the box, starting with a crushing hit on Canucks star Daniel Sedin(notes). Eager was lucky he received only a two-minute minor for boarding then.
McGinn was not so lucky now. He received a major for boarding and a game misconduct, and he had to watch on television, in agony, as the Sharks tried to protect their lead – and stay in the series – against the NHL’s best power play.
“Pretty tough,” McGinn said.
First, Dan Hamhuis(notes) scored on a slap shot from the right circle. The Sharks’ lead was down to two. Then, Kevin Bieksa(notes) scored on a slap shot from the left point when the puck deflected off the skate of Sharks defenseman Ian White(notes). The Sharks’ lead was down to one.
McGinn’s major finally expired, and he could finally exhale when the Sharks held on for a 4-3 victory, cutting their series deficit to 2-1 and snapping an eight-game losing streak in conference final games. But it was another lesson these teams have had to learn the hard way: Stay out of the box or suffer the consequences.
In the regular season, these were the NHL’s top two teams on the power play. The Canucks cashed in 24.3 percent of the time, the Sharks 23.5 percent. Both teams have skilled playmakers and sharpshooters.
In the playoffs, when there is so much less time and space and so much more intensity, it often comes down to discipline, composure, penalties and special teams, especially between teams like this. It did the last two games.
In Game 2, a 7-3 Vancouver victory, the Sharks went 2-for-2 and the Canucks 3-for-7 on the power play. The Sharks lost their composure and the Canucks used two of their power-play goals to turn a one-goal game into a rout in the third period.
This was almost the opposite. The Canucks went 2-for-7 on the power play and the Sharks 3-for-10. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say the Canucks lost their composure.
“I thought we were pretty disciplined,” Vigneault said. “If I were to comment on what I think of the penalties, I’d get a pretty big fine, so I’m going to save my money.”
But Vigneault should save it. This wasn’t the officials’ fault. Agitator Max Lapierre, whose discipline was a concern when the Canucks acquired him before the trade deadline, set the tone with an unnecessary roughing penalty early in the first period. Patrick Marleau(notes) made him pay with a power-play goal at 3:56. Then Christian Ehrhoff(notes) took a double-minor for high sticking, drawing blood from Torrey Mitchell(notes). Ryan Clowe made him pay with a power-play goal at 8:22.
The penalties helped propel a San Jose team that had emphasized a fast start and came out competing harder. The Sharks took an early 15-1 lead in shots. Marleau made it 3-0 before the first period was out, breaking away and beating the glove of goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes).
(That’s five goals in four games for Marleau, but because there was one scoreless game between his streak and the “gutless” comment former teammate Jeremy Roenick(notes) made about him on television, the Sharks are calling it a coincidence. “I’m not going to give that credit to J.R. there,” Clowe said, smiling.)
Then came the two-man advantages. The Canucks drew three overlapping penalties late in the second period, including a total of 1:56 seconds of 5-on-3 time. The Sharks killed all of it.
After Alex Burrows put the Canucks on the board early in the third, the Sharks drew a 5-on-3. Boyle beat Luongo with a clean shot at 6:46 – Luongo falling from his knees onto his back afterward, defeated. Little did anyone know that goal would be the difference.
McGinn drilled Rome soon afterward, received his major and had to be relieved the Canucks capitalized only twice.
In the final moments, the Canucks’ frustration came out. They had allowed the Sharks’ oft-criticized stars to get hot – Marleau with two goals and an assist, Joe Thornton(notes) with three assists. Two of their defensemen had been lost to McGinn hits – Christian Ehrhoff as well as Rome – and both are questionable for Game 4.
“On all my hits, I’m not trying to hurt anyone,” McGinn said. “It’s unfortunate … but it’s probably good for us.”
When Bieksa took a hooking penalty to prevent an empty-net goal with 51 seconds left, Lapierre also received a 10-minute misconduct. At the final horn, Ryan Kesler(notes), who has no goals and only one assist in the series, took a slashing penalty.
“You lose your cool,” Sharks winger Devin Setoguchi said. “It can’t happen. We did last game, and they did a little bit tonight. But that’s just two teams that don’t like each other. What’s not fun about that?”
Well, it’s all fun and games until someone gets burned.