By Jim Morris, special to CBC Sports
VANCOUVER -- All night, Ryan Kesler hustled and hit and tried to be the difference maker.
Later, in the quiet Vancouver Canucks dressing room, Kesler looked like a wrung-out rag. He was physically and mentally exhausted after the Canucks' crushing 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The defeat leaves the Canucks trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven NHL Western Conference quarter-final series. It also wasted the best performance of any Vancouver player not named Roberto Luongo this playoff.
Kesler scored twice, once on the power play. He led the team with five shots and six hits. He tried to grab the wheel and steer the Canucks back into the series. Instead, the team continues to weave dangerously toward the ditch.
"It's tough," Kesler said. "We deserved better.
"I thought we played exceptional tonight. We just didn't get it done. We have to regroup and focus on Game 3. Tomorrow we will learn from this and move on."
The Canucks were just 56 seconds away from a win that would have mended some tattered confidence. Instead, Vancouver heads to San Jose needing to win in a building where the Sharks were 17-2-5 during the regular season.
No one says it's impossible. But it won't be easy.
"It's just about making a couple more plays," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We should be disappointed and upset with ourselves.
"But we were a couple of plays away and a couple of seconds away from getting the win. It's going to burn for a couple of more hours."
It was an overtime Vancouver easily could have avoided.
With Shark goaltender Antti Niemi on the bench for an extra attacker, Jannik Hansen missed an empty net. Then captain Henrik Sedin failed to clear the puck, allowing Patrick Marleau to tie the game with less than a minute remaining.
"It's tough," Daniel Sedin said, who along with brother Henrik assisted on Kesler's first goal. "This is the way it goes. We have to stay positive and build on this game.
"I thought we played a heck of a game. It was tight and we played a really good third period. In the overtime anything can happen. That's the way it is."Canucks shuffle lines
Vigneault tried to kick-start his offence by moving Derek Roy to centre the second line. Kesler shifted from centre to right wing while Chris Higgins played on the left side. That lasted until the third period, when Kesler returned to centre between Higgins and Hansen.
Kesler, who looked lethargic in Wednesday's 3-1 loss, showed signs of his old rambunctious self. In the second period he took a couple runs at hulking Shark captain Joe Thornton. He drew a high-sticking penalty. He tried to run defenceman Justin Braun through the boards.
"He's a world class player and he knows how to play," Shark Raffi Torres, who scored the overtime winner, said. "These are the kind of games he steps up in.
"Two big goals from him and he gives his team a chance to win."
Thornton scored San Jose's other goal.
Prior to the game the Canucks talked about needing to create more traffic in front of the net and prevent Niemi from getting clean looks at shots.
Vancouver did manage to apply some pressure but many of their 31 shots came from long range. The big, mobile Shark defence was able to control the rebounds and send the puck up the ice.
The game wouldn't have been close if not for another outstanding performance from Luongo.
During a San Jose power play in the first period the big goaltender stopped T.J. Galiardi, then Marleau. In the second period a diving Luongo gloved a shot after Torres was left alone in front of the net.
Luongo will have to continue his heroics. Cory Schneider, who took over the starting duties this season, is still bothered by an undisclosed injury that many people suspect is a groin problem. Vigneault said Schneider might not travel with the team to San Jose.
It was the sixth consecutive home playoff defeat for the Canucks dating back to their Game 7 loss against Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. Vancouver is now 1-8 in their last nine playoff games. During that stretch the Canucks have scored just 13 goals.
The series now shifts to San Jose for games Sunday and Tuesday. A fifth game if necessary would be Thursday at Rogers Arena.
Kesler's efforts Friday night planted a seed of hope. Only time will tell if that seed will grow or shrivel away.
"Game 3 is a must win," said Kesler. "We need to go on a winning streak here."
Follow Jim Morris on Twitter @jememorris
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