VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Playoff elimination is never easy to accept. But, for the Sharks, the bizarre finish to the Western Conference finals here in 2011 may have been the most difficult of their 15 postseason departures.

Yet as San Jose opens its latest drive for the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks, goaltender Antti Niemi can almost embrace the double-overtime moment when a puck seemed to appear out of nowhere on defenseman Kevin Bieksa's stick, then hit the twine at the back of the San Jose net an instant later.

"It sucked at the time, but now it's fine," Niemi said. "And I think it's going to turn. In the long run, the bounces are going to even out."

The sixth-seeded Sharks will need to be rely on more than hockey karma if they are to get their revenge on the third-seeded Canucks. But if one of the most bitter moments in franchise history gets a share of the credit, so be it.

The Sharks began the night of May 24, 2011, trailing the series 3-1, and were within 14 seconds of a regulation win when Ryan Kesler scored for Vancouver to send the game into overtime. One extra 20-minute period settled nothing, and 10 minutes into the second, the sequence began.

Standing about 10 feet inside the blue line, Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler sent the puck down the right sideboards as Logan Couture closed in on him. Players on both teams headed behind the goal line, then stopped in confusion. Joe Pavelski pointed upward with his stick as if to indicate the puck went into the netting.

It didn't. Instead it hit a stanchion and rolled directly to Bieksa, whose 60-foot slap shot reached the net before Niemi fully realized what was happening.

"I think I was one of the few to see where the puck was the entire time," Couture said. "It was just a weird play and a tough game to lose because we outplayed them in that one."

Not everybody on the ice Wednesday night shares that memory. Only eight current Sharks played in that game; Vancouver has undergone less turnover as 16 of its players were in the lineup then.

And not everybody wants to go back to that night.

"There's no need to," Pavelski said. "It hadn't crossed my mind."

But Couture said he recently took the time to look up the Bieksa goal. Still, he and other players said that simply losing to Vancouver was more of the added incentive going forward than the freak goal that did them in.

"I don't think about the way we lost as much as them taking us out," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "That's what I remember more than the fluky goal. I remember that St. Louis took us out last year and they took us out the year before. I remember that."

Couture said that over the past two summers, he has reflected on both of San Jose's trips to the Western Conference finals, trying to figure out what could have gone differently, "but that's just the way hockey players think in general."

"I mean," he continued, "you get so far and you get to the conference finals. Both those years, I still think about the teams we had. It was just a weird play and a tough game to lose because we outplayed them in that one."

Predictably, the Canucks looked at it differently Tuesday.

"We don't look at that series where we think we were lucky," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said after his team's morning practice. "We played some good hockey against a really good team and we did a lot of really good things in that series. Unfortunately for them, that's what happens sometimes."

But, he added, "we don't look back and think that gave us the series. We played some good hockey."

Wednesday's game
GAME 1: Sharks at Vancouver, 7:30 p.m., CSNBA, NBCSN

INSIDE
Mark Purdy: Brent Burns is Sharks' 'X' factor. Page 5
Sharks need a solid performance from goaltender Antti Niemi. Page 5
Series matchups. Page 5


ONLINE EXtra
For more on the Sharks in the playoffs, go to WWW.mercurynews.com/SHARKs