- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — San Jose captain Joe Thornton tried to get the Western Conference finals off to a raucous start when he asked gritty Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler to drop the gloves right off the opening faceoff.

“Why not?” Thornton said Tuesday, confirming he made the invitation to Kesler. “Let’s fight. Let’s start the series off with a bang.”

It didn’t happen. Instead, the Canucks rallied in the third period for a 3-2 win Sunday night.

Maybe Thornton and the Sharks should be more concerned about how they finish games than how they start them. San Jose is trailing in a series for the first time this postseason and will have a chance to get even Wednesday night in Game 2 in Vancouver.

The Sharks’ inability to hold onto third-period leads nearly cost them in the second round against Detroit, when the Red Wings erased a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7.

Even though the Sharks are behind in a series for the first time, they are all too familiar with coughed-up leads. San Jose surrendered third-period advantages in Game 5 and 6 against the Red Wings before holding off Detroit in Game 7.

The Sharks were ahead 2-1 going into the third period of Game 1 against Vancouver, but gave up two goals 79 seconds apart and were outshot 13-7 in the final frame.

That makes three blown third-period leads in four games for the Sharks, who were 33-2-2 during the regular season when leading after 40 minutes.

“I certainly don’t feel uncomfortable with a lead,” Sharks top defenseman Dan Boyle said. “That’s where I want to be, and we have to find a way to finish people off, maybe by getting that next goal and building on that one-goal lead.”

It’s a lesson the Canucks already learned the hard way in these playoffs.

Vancouver was 38-0-3 with the lead after two periods during the regular season in which the Canucks had the NHL’s best record and topped the league in several key categories. But after surrendering a 3-0 series lead to nemesis Chicago to start the playoffs, the Canucks gave up a short-handed goal late in Game 7 before recovering to win in overtime.