Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo is swarmed by teammates after the Canucks defeated the Dallas Stars. (CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)
Linden deflected a Mattias Ohlund shot past Dallas goaltender Marty Turco early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie, and the Canucks went on to a 4-1 victory over the Stars on Monday in Game 7 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final series.
It was Vancouver's second power-play goal of the game, but Linden didn't even know he had scored until he heard the roar of 18,630 towel-waving fans.
"I knew I had tipped it between his legs but I wasn't sure it had enough to get over," he said. "I didn't see it until much after. I don't even know if it touched the back of the net."
The Canucks now face the Anaheim Ducks in the Conference semifinal. Game 1 is Wednesday in Anaheim.
It was the ninth Game 7 of Linden's career but the 37-year-old veteran still was as nervous as a cat in a dog pound in the hours leading up to puck drop.
"I was so nervous, literally sick, feeling bad," said Linden, who also assisted on Bryan Smolinski's empty-net goal. "It was a lot of nerves but I think our team accepted the challenge."
The win moved Vancouver into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003. It also loosened the noose that had been tightened around the team's neck after the Canucks blew a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and let Dallas force a deciding game.
The Canucks were shutout in back-to-back losses and drew the wrath of coach Alain Vigneault following Saturday's defeat in Game 6.
"It was a big challenge for us," said Linden. "It wasn't a comfortable feeling coming back for Game 7."
The Canucks had lost the last two seventh games they played at home and especially wanted to erase the memory of their 2003 collapse against the Minnesota Wild. The Canucks led that Western Conference semifinal 3-1 but couldn't put the Wild away and ended up losing the deciding match at GM Place.
"There are a few guys around here that have been through a couple tough defeats, Game 7s on home ice," said centre Brendan Morrison."You don't want to be labelled as a loser."
Henrik Sedin had a goal and assist for the Canucks, who battled back from a 1-0, first-period deficit. Taylor Pyatt also scored into an empty net for Vancouver.
"We showed a lot of character," said Sedin. "It would have been a real disaster to lose the seventh game. "
Sedin scored on the power-play at 15:12 of the second period off an assist from his brother Daniel. The points were the first for the twins since the opening game of the series and the goal was Vancouver's first against Turco in 167 minutes and four seconds.
It also was Vancouver first power-play goal in 27 man advantages.
Dallas coach Dave Tippett was frustrated that his team faced 10 power plays.
"It's a mystery to me how the standard can change," said Tippett. "It was a different refereed game than the other six. Baffling.
"Some of the calls . . . it's game seven. Let's let the players decide it."
Dallas captain Brenden Morrow hesitated to play the referee card.
"We can blame the refs all we want . . . there was a couple of questionable calls, I guess, (but) we didn't earn it tonight," he said. "They got after us and I think we sat back a little bit.
"They took the momentum and we tried hard to battle back and we just didn't get the bounce."
Joel Lundqvist scored for Dallas, which was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Linden's goal was the 34th playoff goal of his career, tying Pavel Bure's franchise record.
The Canucks needed goaltender Roberto Luongo to make some big saves down the stretch. He stopped Stu Barnes on his doorstep, bringing chants of "MVP, MVP" from the crowd.
Luongo, playing in his first playoffs, also got lucky when Mike Modano rank a shot off the post with less than four minutes remaining. Modano looked skyward in frustration.
The Stars badly outplayed Vancouver in the first period, beating them to pucks and breaking up passing plays. In the second the Canucks finally began to play with some desperation and took advantage of a string of Dallas penalties to outshoot the Stars 14-4.
Vigneault had called out his team after Saturday's loss and accused the Canucks of not working hard enough.
"I think it wasn't about me challenging them," he said after the win. "It was more about them understanding what they needed to do.
"They did it for the right reasons, they did it for themselves, they played hard for their teammates and they played hard for the fans. It was a lot more about them than it was about me tonight."
The Stars had trailed 3-1 in a series 12 times but never before fought back to force a Game 7.
The Canucks are now 5-4 in Game 7's while the Stars are 5-6.
Dallas played the game without defenceman Sergei Zubov who suffered a pulled stomach muscle Saturday.
Notes-It was the fourth consecutive playoff series that has gone seven games for the Canucks. . .Since the NHL introduced the best-of-seven format 119 series have gone to seven games. The home team has won 75 of the deciding games.