- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2011

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrick Marleau got San Jose off to a fast start, Antti Niemi preserved the lead with spectacular short-handed play in the second period, and the Sharks hung on for the win they desperately needed after losing the first two games in Vancouver.

Marleau scored twice in the first period, Niemi made 27 saves, and the Sharks capitalized on 10 power-play chances to beat the Canucks 4-3 Friday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference final.

“We realize how important tonight was,” captain Joe Thornton said. “We realize what’s at stake. The guys showed up and the fans were into it. They gave us an extra boost.”

Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle also scored and Joe Thornton had three assists for the Sharks, who still trail the series 2-1 after winning a conference final game on home ice for the first time in franchise history.

San Jose looked like a completely different team than the one that was outscored 10-5 in losing the first two games of the series in Vancouver. The Sharks scored three times in the first period and had 15 of the first 16 shots on goal to snap an eight-game losing streak in the conference final, including a sweep last year to Chicago.

“The last two have not been anywhere near par for our group,” coach Todd McLellan said. “So it was nice to see us return to the way we can play.”

Game 4 is Sunday in San Jose.

Alexandre Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa scored in the third period for the Canucks, who were unable to overcome their slow start or capitalize on big chances in the second.

The Canucks nearly rallied from a three-goal deficit, thanks to a five-minute boarding call on Jamie McGinn against Aaron Rome that led to power-play goals from Hamhuis and Bieksa to cut San Jose’s lead to 4-3 with 3:56 remaining.

But the Canucks couldn’t get the equalizer as they were hurt by a late penalty by Bieksa — his third of the game. That gave the Sharks their 10th power play, something that upset Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.

“I thought we were pretty disciplined,” Vigneault said. “So 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.”

Vigneault has bigger concerns with the status of two of his defensemen in doubt. Both Rome and Christian Ehrhoff could miss Game 4 because of injuries after taking hits from McGinn. McGinn also could be suspended after getting his second game misconduct of the playoffs.

After the Sharks broke out to a 3-0 lead after one period on a pair of power-play goals and Marleau’s breakaway, Niemi and a much-improved penalty-killing unit maintained that lead in a tense second period.

San Jose got the first five power-play chances in a major turnaround from what happened when the Sharkswere undisciplined and a step slow in Vancouver. But even when the Canucks got a chance with a man — or even two-man — advantage, they struggled to beat Niemi.

During one stretch of 4:05 late in the second period, Vancouver was on the power play, including 1:55 over two stints with a 5-on-3 advantage. The Canucks managed just five shots during that entire time, with none getting past Niemi. He robbed Burrows at the side of the net and made a tough stop on Daniel Sedin.

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