SAN JOSE, Calif. - For the fourth straight game, Vancouver gave up the first two goals. Radim Vrbata did his best to dig the Canucks out of that early hole and give them a key win in their playoff push.
Vrbata scored his second goal of the game to break a tie in the third period and made an alert defensive play to preserve the lead and help the Canucks rally for a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
"It was a four-point game," Vrbata said. "If we would have lost they would get really close to us. This way we open a cushion again, and overall it was a big effort, especially in this building."
With the win, the Canucks moved two points ahead of Calgary for sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division and six points ahead of the fifth-place Sharks.
Vrbata started the comeback with a goal in the final minute of the first period and then gave Vancouver its first lead when he scored on the power play early in the third. Bo Horvat also scored and Eddie Lack made 38 saves for the Canucks, who avoided their first three-game losing streak since early January.
"We know what's at stake, and to be down 2-0 against these guys and come back is unbelievable," captain Henrik Sedin said.
Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton scored for the Sharks, who were dealt another blow in their bid for an 11th straight playoff berth. Antti Niemi made 31 saves.
After winning their first two games in March, including a 6-2 victory in Vancouver on Tuesday, the Sharks started fast with two goals in the first 12 minutes. But sloppy play and bad luck did them in against the Canucks.
"We weren't able to get the third or fourth goal to put them away," Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said. "When we look back at it, that will be what we key in on."
Shortly after San Jose's apparent go-ahead goal by Wingels was waved off when the referee blew the whistle even though the puck still appeared loose, the Canucks took advantage of a high-sticking penalty on Brent Burns that gave them a 4-on-3 advantage.
As Joe Pavelski and Henrik Sedin battled for possession of a faceoff, Daniel Sedin got the puck and created a 2-on-1 down low. Vrbata patiently waited for Niemi to go down to the ice before firing the puck up high for his fifth goal of the season against the Sharks.
Vrbata wasn't done. After Tomas Hertl's deflection midway through the period hit off the post, Vrbata cleared the loose puck off the goal line before it could trickle into the net for the tying goal.
The Canucks took advantage of mistakes by San Jose to tie the game in the second period. First Patrick Marleau missed an easy tap-in goal when he somehow knocked a pass from Scott Hannan wide of an empty net.
"I went to stop it and it hit my stick and took off the other way," Marleau said. "I'd like to have that one back. When it's that open it's hard to put it away right away."
Then Burns failed to keep a puck in at the blue line and then lost a race to Horvat, who came in alone on Niemi and chipped the puck over the goaltender to tie it late in the second.
The first period was action-packed with both teams getting 15 shots on goal, an early fight between San Jose's Brenden Dillon and Vancouver's Jannik Hansen, and three goals.
The Sharks scored on a pair of rebounds by Karlsson and Thornton to go up 2-0. But the Canucks put heavy pressure on San Jose late and it paid off when Marleau gave away the puck in the neutral zone. Burns lost it again at the blue line, leading to Vrbata's nifty score from behind the goal line with 38.5 seconds left in the period.
NOTES: The road teams won all five games in the season series with Vancouver winning three times in San Jose and losing twice at home. ... Vancouver D Yannick Weber left in the third period with an injury. ... Canucks F Chris Higgins was scratched with a lower-body injury.