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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin didn’t hesitate to compare winning Olympic gold to the chance to play for the Stanley Cup.For Sedin, who won the Olympics with Sweden in 2006, it was just as important to earn a trip to the Cup finals for the first time in his career — and the first time in 17 seasons for the Vancouver franchise.
“It’s up there with the Olympic gold,” said Sedin. “It’s a tough journey to go through to get here. The Olympic medal, it’s a short tournament, you play a few games, you get a few bounces, you’re there. This is way tougher.”
The Canucks certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves Tuesday night.
Ryan Kesler tied the game with 13.2 seconds left in regulation, and Roberto Luongo made 54 saves before Kevin Bieksa scored a strange and lucky goal 10:18 into the second overtime to send the Canucks to the finals for the first time since 1994 with a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
Despite the heroics, Luongo, who won Olympic gold for Canada 15 months earlier, wasn’t quite ready to call his first finals a defining moment.
“Hopefully there’s a few more to come in the next couple weeks,” he said. “I said to my family before the series started, this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I’m just going to go out there and play and enjoy it.”
Only Bieksa got to enjoy the winning goal right away. Few others saw it go in.
Alex Edler’s dump-in caromed awkwardly off the glass on the sideboards and out to Bieksa just inside the blue line, and his quick shot beat Antti Niemi before the goalie — or mostly everyone else on the ice — could find the puck.
“Probably the ugliest goal of my career but the biggest,” Bieksa said. “When it went in, I just yelled out, ‘Let’s go to the Cup, baby.'”
Vancouver will play for the Stanley Cup for first time since 1994, when the Canucks lost in seven games to the New York Rangers. It will be only the third finals appearance in the team’s 40-year history, and it came 17 years to the day after they earned their last finals berth — also with a double-overtime victory.
It was a tough way for San Jose to end a game it dominated for long stretches, outshooting the Canucks 56-34 while bowing out of the Western Conference finals in five games — one game longer than last year’s trip to the final four.
“When you watch the replay, the officials didn’t know where it was, Nemo didn’t know where it was, Vancouver, San Jose, nobody knew where it was,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “Nothing we can do about it.”
It ruined what McLellan called a “courageous” game from captain Joe Thornton, who revealed he was playing through a separated shoulder suffered late in Game 4. Thornton had several great early chances, but couldn’t beat Luongo.
“It was sore, but no excuses,” Thornton said.
The Sharks lasted one game longer than last season, when the Niemi-led Chicago Blackhawks swept them out of the conference finals. Still looking for their first berth in the Cup finals, Thornton didn’t see it as a failure.
“Ask 27 teams and they’re a little jealous at the success we’ve had,” he said. “To get here is an accomplishment, but next year we’ve got to beat it.”
They almost did, and maybe should have.
After Alex Burrows opened the scoring in the first period and Patrick Marleau tied it on a power-play tip midway through the second, San Jose went ahead after Luongo’s gamble left Devin Setoguchi with an empty net 24 seconds into the third. But Kesler deflected Henrik Sedin’s shot through Niemi after a questionable icing against San Jose. Replays showed the puck hit Daniel Sedin, but the icing call set up an offensive zone faceoff.
“That (ticks) me off even more now,” San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle said of the missed call. “One of the most frustrating losses of my career.”
It came after the Sharks outshot the Canucks badly for a second straight game. But despite a 91-47 shots advantage the final two games of the series, San Jose lost both, with the Canucks winning Game 4 Sunday 4-2 on the strength of only 13 shots.
“We should have won this game,” Boyle said.
Instead, after claiming the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team, the Canucks are only four wins away from a first Stanley Cup title.
They will host Games 1 and 2 against either Boston or Tampa Bay. 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.
“It feels unbelievable,” Bieksa said. “To go to the Stanley Cup finals is a dream come true and to do it with this group — our core has been here seven years working towards something special — we have a huge opportunity ahead of us.”
Notes: Vancouver last earned a spot in the Cup finals when Greg Adams scored in double overtime of Game 5 against Toronto on May 24, 1994. … Vancouver D Christian Ehrhoff missed a second game because of a suspected shoulder injury sustained in Game 3. He practiced Monday and is day-to-day. D Aaron Rome, also knocked out in Game 3, missed a second straight game. … San Jose D Jason Demers, out since Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals against Detroit, was ready to return but didn’t. … The Canucks were swept 4-0 by the New York Islanders in 1982 in the team’s first trip to the Cup finals.