Pavelski goalThe only thing truly separating the Sharks from the Canucks at the end of the regular season was a division championship. In the Northwest, 59 points was more than enough for Vancouver to take it and clinch the third seed. San Jose’s 57 points weren’t nearly enough to catch the upstart Anaheim Ducks, however. In truth, two points separated these teams. The seedings failed as a barometer, and while an assist goes to the Sharks’ early season losing streak, San Jose is now prove who’s the better team.

No contest showed it like tonight’s. Although it was close through two, the Sharks broke it wide open in the third and rolled for a 5-2 Game 3 win. San Jose had already captured home ice advantage after emerging from two games in Vancouver undefeated. The question was whether they would put this series further out of reach or let their opponents sneak back into the conversation tonight.

Question: answered. The series isn’t over yet, but the Sharks certainly have a stranglehold now.

San Jose’s young stars were the harbinger for success Sunday night. Joe Pavelski has been known as a big game player dating all the way back to San Jose’s trip to the Western Conference finals in 2009. He had been quiet during his last four games, but in the first period of a rowdy night at HP Pavilion, he found his rhythm.

Tic-tac-toe. This was one of San Jose’s three power play goals (on eight opportunities). If you’re wondering where the respect for Logan Couture has been, check out all three of the Canucks collapsing to try and block a shot that never happened. It’s not even respect — it’s fear.

The second period featured even more Pavelski. Scott Hannan rimmed a dump in around to Tommy Wingels who threw it at the net (and a crashing #8).

It’s hard to tell, but Pavelski appears to be tipping the puck past his right leg and into Cory Schneider’s five hole. The Canucks would respond late in the second, but the third belonged to Couture.

Maybe his ability to take a pinpoint shot from anywhere on the ice at any time is why Vancouver respects him so much. But they should have been paying closer attention to Patrick Marleau just nine seconds later.

Go ahead, Patrick. Enjoy it. When you score a highlight reel goal while falling down you deserve to smile.

Couture finished the Canucks off 1:30 later with this gem.

And like that, Cory Schneider was gone. The Canucks announced he would replace Roberto Luongo early Sunday afternoon, but they ended up reversing roles after the Sharks solved Schneider. Who will be in goal for Vancouver Tuesday night is anybody’s guess — they’re both talented goaltenders who have provided as many “wow” moments as they have softies.

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– It’s really sad that I haven’t come up with a clever name for these little bullet points yet. “Bites and pieces” maybe? Get it? Like a shark bite? I don’t know. Help me out guys.

– This was a nasty effort from the Canucks, but the Sharks had to be ready for it. San Jose responded fairly well — they only suffered a few minor penalties for retaliation after scrums in front of the net but got power play chances from Vancouver’s penalties and capitalized on them.

– Pavelski got a rough ride he got from Ryan Kesler early in the game. A scrum against the boards found Pavelski on the ground, and Kesler crosschecked him in the back with his stick several times. The Canucks’ star is really a smart player when it comes to playing off the referees. He knew his angle blocked the linesman’s view when he was crosschecking Pavelski but sold Marleau’s high stick in the first period like a used car dealer.

– Are the Sharks thinking sweep? Some of the players might be, but Todd McLellan certainly isn’t. After Ann Killion asked the coach about warning his players not to think sweep, McLellan said, “Tomorrow I will remind them that the last time we were in this situation we had to play seven. There’s a lot of hockey left between these two teams.”

The “last time” they were in this situation was the 2010-11 Western Conference Semifinals. The Sharks went up 3-0 on the Red Wings, who took it to an exhilarating (albeit terrifying) Game 7 at HP Pavilion. It would be best for San Jose to avoid that now, especially since this series would go back to Vancouver.

– Maybe it’s just been a long time since I’ve seen playoff hockey live (the aforementioned WCF run, to be exact), but The Tank was absolutely rocking tonight. The auxiliary press box I was sitting in is right above the last row in Section 221, and since I was in the front row it was almost like I had a seat of my own among them. You could feel the energy and hunger of these Sharks fans who still believe their team has a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

I wasn’t the only one. “I heard [Joe Pavelski] say something after the game that the fans almost become his legs sometimes,” McLellan said. “They’re so energizing, and so excited about the game and you kind of ride on that for a while.”

– The Sharks will hope to ride another raucous crowd to a Game 4 win on Tuesday night. One win left to move on to the Western Conference Semifinals.

13 wins to go.