VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The party started in downtown Vancouver at 9:49 p.m. local time. Kevin Bieksa's strange goal ignited the biggest Canucks celebration in these parts since 1994, and it continued long into the night.
You want omens? On the same day 17 years ago, Greg Adams scored in double overtime to send the Canucks to their last Stanley Cup final. Bieksa's tally also came in the second period of extra time, and the result was just as exhilarating for a city and province craving its first-ever championship.
"Obviously, it feels unbelievable," said Bieksa. "To go to the Stanley Cup final is a dream come true, and to do it with this group of guys -- our core has been here for seven or eight years working toward something special, and we have a huge opportunity in front of us."
The goal, well, was nothing special, but nobody cares in this province. On a bizarre play that saw the puck hit a stanchion and then bounce weirdly to Bieksa inside the Sharks' blue line, every other player on the ice stood around not knowing where it was. And most regrettably for the Sharks, that including goalie Antti Niemi.
"I saw it drop there, and one-timed it on net," said Bieksa, who collected his fifth goal of the playoffs. "It was a tough puck to get good wood on. I was just trying not to flub it. Just try to put something on net, get a tip or a bounce. I didn't realize that no one else was looking."
You know what they say about great teams making their own breaks. The Canucks got another huge break late in the third period when the Sharks got called for icing even though replays showed the puck deflected off Daniel Sedin. The Sharks protested -- notably Ryane Clowe -- but the faceoff went in the Sharks zone and set up Ryan Kesler's heroics. His goal at 19:46 tied the game, and you just knew how it would end after that.
"Pure excitement," said Kesler of his tying goal. "I don't know. I think I maybe jumped three feet in the air when it went in. I was really excited."
Not bad for a guy who left the game in the second period with an apparent left leg injury.
"The doctors took care of me and got me back out there quick," said Kesler, who scored his seventh goal of the playoffs. "They did a good job, and it felt good to get that one."
Alex Burrows called Kesler an animal.
"We knew he'd come back," Burrows said. "To see him come back and really put it all out there for his teammates and this team, it means a lot. Karma, a little bit, to come back and get that goal. That's the hockey Gods right there."
Truth be told, the Canucks had no business being in this game. They were outshot 56-34 but got a stellar performance from much-maligned netminder Roberto Luongo.
"He was our best player," said Kesler. "When they throw that many pucks on net and he stands tall, it gives us confidence to go the other way. We rewarded him at the end of the night."
"He played unbelievable, unbelievable for us," added Bieksa. "He was big early in the game when we needed him. He was huge in the second. He was huge in overtime when they were in our zone for it seemed like shifts at a time. He made some enormous saves for us."
Now, the Canucks get to rest, which is huge. After playing 13 out of a maximum 14 games in the opening two rounds, they need all the rest they can get. Stretching out this series with San Jose would have hampered their chances to win a championship.
On this night, it was time to soak it all in. They were going to the Stanley Cup finals.
"It's a big surreal right now," Bieksa said. "It's still fresh, but it's something you work for for your entire life and it's going to be fun to go with this group of guys."