VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Kevin Bieksa scored 10:18 into the second overtime and the Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years with a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
The Canucks ended the Western Conference finals in five games after getting even 2-2 with 13.2 seconds left in regulation when Ryan Kesler scored with goalie Roberto Luongo on the Vancouver bench for an extra skater.
It will be Vancouver’s first trip to the Cup finals since 1994, when the Canucks lost in seven games to the New York Rangers. The last NHL team from Canada to win the title was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
Exactly 17 years day after they earned their previous trip to play for the Cup, the Canucks rode 54 saves from Luongo and a lucky bounce to Bieksa to advance to the finals for the third time in the team’s 40-year history.
The puck caromed awkwardly off the glass on the sideboards and out to Bieksa just inside the blue line. His quick shot beat Antti Niemi inside the right post before the goalie — or mostly everyone else on the ice — could find the puck.
“The only guy who knew where that puck was, was Kevin Bieksa and he almost fanned on it,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s one of those things you have no control over. We can talk about it all we want. There is nothing we can do about it.”
Luongo raised his stick in celebration as his teammates jumped onto the ice. Blue confetti fell from the roof as the sellout crowd chanted, “We want the Cup.”
“I think when the puck went in, the goalie was looking behind the net,” Bieksa said. “It was an ugly goal, but one I will take.
“It’s fantastic. It’s unbelievable. To go to the Stanley Cup final is a dream come true.”
The Sharks outshot Vancouver 16-9 and 56-34 overall. Despite having a 91-47 shots advantage over the final two games of the series, San Jose lost both. The Canucks won Game 4 on Sunday 4-2 even though they recorded only 13 shots.
Vancouver was down 2-1 after Luongo’s gamble left Devin Setoguchi with an empty net 24 seconds into the third period. But Kesler, who left briefly in the second period with an apparent injury to his left leg, deflected Henrik Sedin’s shot through Niemi after a questionable icing call against San Jose. Replays appeared to show that the puck hit Daniel Sedin, but icing was called anyway to set up an offensive zone faceoff for Vancouver.
After claiming the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, the Canucks are only four wins away from their first Stanley Cup title.
They will host Games 1 and 2 against either the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 and can advance with a Game 6 win at Tampa Bay on Wednesday. If necessary, Game 7 would be in Boston on Friday.
Antti Niemi made 31 saves, including Chris Higgins’ breakaway in the second overtime, for the Sharks, who lost the West finals last year to Chicago in six games. Niemi was the goalie for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
It was Niemi’s first playoff loss in seven career series.