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Pair of third-period goals gives Canucks comeback win over Sharks

VANCOUVER _ Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa scored goals 79 seconds apart in the third period as the Vancouver Canucks battled back to defeat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 Sunday in the opening game of the NHL’s Western Conference final.

The quick goals pumped some energy into a game that had lacked excitement. Maxim Lapierre had the other Vancouver goal.

Joe Thornton, with a goal and an assist, and Patrick Marleau, on the power play, scored for San Jose. The Sharks led 2-1 after 40 minutes.

Game 2 will be in Vancouver on Wednesday. The best-of-seven series moves to San Jose for games Friday and Sunday.

Sedin put Vancouver ahead 3-2 on a power-play at 8:21 of the third after Dany Heatley was called for elbowing. The Canuck captain took a pass from defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and flipped a backhand past Shark goaltender Antti Niemi for just his second goal of the playoffs.

Ryan Kesler started the play by keeping the puck in the Shark zone along the boards.

Bieksa tied the game at 7:03. He took a pass from Alex Burrows and then launched a rocket past Niemi’s stick side.

The game lacked the emotion and offensive fireworks the teams usually generate.  It took’s Bieksa’s goal before the towel-waving, sellout crowd of 18,860 made much noise.

Niemi had stymied the Canucks early. He held his ground during a wild scramble in the second. With bodies flying around him, Niemi flattened his left pad and stopped several whacks at the puck by  Kesler and Jannik Hansen.

Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo kept the game close in the third period, getting his glove on a Thornton backhand while lying flat on his stomach.

Marleau gave San Jose a 2-1 lead at 8:44 of the second period on a power play when he deflected a Dan Boyle shot from the point over Luongo’s glove. Thornton assisted on the play.

Lapierre scored at 1:49 of the second after the Canucks took advantage of a Niemi mistake. The Finnish goaltender attempted to clear the puck up the boards, but Raffi Torres intercepted.

Torres shot the puck behind the net, where Hansen fed an open Lapierre who beat Niemi.

A Luongo miscue resulted in the Sharks opening the scoring at 18:47 of the first period.

The Canuck goaltender was attempting to move the puck out from behind the net, but his clearing pass landed on Thornton’s stick. The big centre fired the puck into an open net while Luongo scrambled to get back into position.

A couple of big hits were dealt out during the game. Vancouver’s Chris Higgins flattened Joe Pavelski with a shoulder to the chest while Torres drilled Niclas Wallin.

There were a few anxious moments during the warmups when  Luongo took a hard shot from Torres. Luongo lay on the ice for about 15 seconds before getting back on his feet.

The Canucks came into the game rested. They had five days off after eliminating the Nashville Predators in six games in the conference semifinal.

The Sharks barely had time to catch their breath after an emotional Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings. San Jose led that series 3-0 at one point.

The Canucks are returning to the Western Conference final after a 17-year absence. Vancouver hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final to the New York Rangers.

The Sharks played in last year’s conference final. They were swept in four games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The Canucks won the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history by finishing the regular season with the best record in the NHL. Vancouver had 117 points, 12 more than the Sharks who were second in the Western Conference.

Notes: There was a moment of silence prior to the game for Derek Boogaard, the New York Ranger whose body was found Friday. … Glee star Cory Monteith, who was raised in Victoria, attended the game. … The Canucks and Sharks have never met in the playoffs. … Torres, Lapierre, Mikael Samuelsson and Manny Malhotra are the only Canucks to have played in a conference final.

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