May 18, 2011
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Ben Eager was fuming.
He couldnt get to Kevin Bieksa, who had already pasted Patrick Marleau in a fight.
Ah, but the Sharks' enforcer could get to Daniel Sedin, since his coach, Todd McLellan was rotating Eager throughout his lineup.
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When Eager slammed the big Swede into the side boards with an unnecessary boarding penalty late in the second period, the entire complexion of Game 2 of the Western Conference Final changed.
And along with it, perhaps any chance of the Sharks coming back in this series after Wednesdays 7-3 decimation at Rogers Arena.
Although the Sharks killed off the boarding minor, Eager then took a bad tripping call in what was a one-goal game.
Chris Higgins scored a third period power play goal, before Daniel Sedin answered with another to blow things apart as the enraged Canucks buried the Sharks, turning a 3-2 lead into a rout. It places the Sharks in an 0-2 tank, with no water.
Ben Eager is one of our faster forwards, one of our more physical forwards, McLellan said. I think he has the ability to win battles and create scrums. I do believe the other team knows when he's on the ice.
Now, the negative. He can't march to the penalty box on an ongoing basis. The tradeoff obviously didn't work in our favor.
Marleau, trying to inspire his teammates who were hemmed into their own end nearly the entire second period, gave himself up to inspire teammates. They didnt respond.
Yeah, you know, weve seen that before with Kevin, Eager said. Its sad that someones got to sign him for big money when hes a phony. He goes after our top player, and hes been asked to fight many times before ... lots of players throughout the league and hes declined, so ...
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Bieksa wouldnt fight Eager, but the bottom line is the hit on Sedin was entirely unnecessary. It woke a sleeping giant and enraged the Canucks.
I was out there to finish my check; I finish all my checks, Eager said. I went to close on him. He knows what he was doing there. He turned his back ... We killed that penalty. That last tripping penalty, I know it cost us and let the team down there.
McLellan defended Eager, saying he didnt cross the line, but admitted his team lost its composure with 13 penalties in the game -- nine in the last period.
They had more battle in their game than we did, McLellan said. This time of the year, when you have more battle and more of a tenacity to your game, you're going to win.
I thought maybe ... we got a little frustrated because we wanted to even the score on the Marleau fight. That was Ben Eager taking a run at one of the Sedins. It probably grew from there a little bit.
But at this point, you've got to have your emotions in check. You've got to maintain some composure.
In case youre wondering, the last team to win a Stanley Cup down 0-2 in a conference final was the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins. That team had Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Joey Mullen and Mark Recchi.
These Sharks have Joe Thornton, Marleau, and ... well, lets just say, theyre not the Penguins.
Interestingly, McLellan said some of his players -- who should have raised their games and responded -- disappeared.
There's a few people in our group, and I'm not going to hide them anymore, they have to ask themselves whether or not they want to keep on competing, McLellan said.
Thornton singled out Marleau as the only player who sacrificed himself for his teammates. San Jose's captain called Marleau a gamer.
Its too bad we didnt have a bunch more gamers tonight, Thornton said. The game would have been different.
Logan Couture agreed.
"Pattys a leader, he said. People dont see that. Its good to see him step up. Hes a quiet guy and he doesnt show his emotion too much. We all see how badly he wants to win. He stepped up and made a statement tonight which was good for the rest of us. Unfortunately, we didnt follow through."
Instead, the Sharks and goalie Antti Niemi were hammered with four goals in the final period -- two on the power play.
San Jose has now been outscored 29-13 in its last eight conference final games (going back to 2004) and is 0-6 in the conference finals over the last two years.
You lose 7-3, not many people play well, Couture said. I didnt play well. The list goes on. Its embarrassing. Its the only word that comes to mind.
Youre in the conference finals and the Stanley Cup playoffs, you put an effort out like that. You cant feel bad for yourselves but you feel bad for the fans and the coaching staff that we gave an effort like that.
Much like Game 1, the Sharks came out fine and again scored the games first goal only to see Vancouver come back with two goals in 39 seconds to stun them.
Couture, whose line matched up against the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel), came up with the first goal at 2:28 when Dany Heatley gave Couture a perfect pass down the slot, allowing him to split the Vancouver defense of Sami Salo and Alexander Edler.
Not even seven minutes later, Henrik had the puck in the slot, turned and passed up a shot for his brother, Daniel, who whipped the puck past Niemi to tie it on the power play -- one of the power play goals the Sharks porous penalty-kill units allowed.
The Canucks took the lead on the very next shift, pinning the Sharks into their own end with Christian Ehrhoff backhanding the puck into the slot for a tap-in goal by Raffi Torres.
Just like that, the Canucks had a 2-1 lead, along with the momentum.
Marleau is a streaky scorer. If he gets one in the playoffs, he usually gets a couple. Marleau got his third goal in three games -- going back his Game 7 game-winner against Detroit -- to re-tie it at 14:02.
Then came the brutal middle period when the Sharks had no opportunities whatsoever.
Couture had a shot on Roberto Luongo 15 seconds in. Their next shot came at 10:01 by Joe Pavelski.
No rushes up ice. No grinding forecheck where the larger Sharks could use their size. And no puck cycling. In other word, no offense.
The period resembled the middle one in Game 1 when Niemi was under siege. The siege produced a back-breaking goal from Bieksa on a breakaway, stretch pass from Higgins. We kid you not.
The Canucks' third line of Ryan Kesler centering Higgins and Torres has made a critical difference in both games.
"Not fun. Embarrassing, Couture said. You look at the last 6-7 games weve played, were just not playing well. Were not playing the way we should be in the playoffs. Tonight was just embarrassing. Hopefully, it wakes us up a little bit."
Tim Panaccio is the NHL Insider for CSNPhilly.com E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org