May 18, 2011
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The San Jose Sharks have been here before -- asking themselves, at least to themselves, if they really are prepared to pay full retail for being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.Wednesday, though, the questions came with a surprising answer: Well, Ben Eager did -- sort of.This wont be a salute to Eagers game, which was a one-goal, four-penalty-plus-a-misconduct mess of hyperactivity. He gave some, and gave up more. He was Ben Eager, period.But he wasnt what turned Game 2 of the Western Conference Final with the Vancouver Canucks into the 7-3 failure-ama it became. He did not act out of character. Which may be the problem with too many of his mates.
Without a doubt, head coach Todd McLellan said when asked if this was another classic Sharks system failure. I'm not going to sit here and try to protect them. We lost composure, we were frustrated. As I said earlier, when you're second, you tend to be frustrated. We've got some work to do. We've got some guys that need to ask themselves some questions, answer them, and pull the skates a little tighter.What, again?Yes, apparently. Again. Too many simple one-on-one battles lost to the Canucks. Too many mistakes that come from those lost battles. And in the third period, a festival of venting that made a 3-2 game that they might have tied against the run of play into a game they let deteriorate into one of their worst postseason performances ever.Be not fooled. San Jos did not lose this game; Vancouver won it by being better across the board. Sure, the winning goal by defenseman Kevin Bieksa, on a breakaway started while the Sharks were all up ice even though Vancouvers Chris Higgins had the puck was a killer -- he broke in clear and without making much of a move wristed a 24-footer low to Antti Niemis glove side.I thought one of the turning points, in my opinion, was their third goal, McLellan said. We have a set forecheck. We've practiced that since September. A player gets skated, all of a sudden it's in your net. You can't chase this team. They're too good. You have to play with them or ahead of them. From there it started to unravel.And it did. Thats where Eagers contributions turned sour. Boarding Daniel Sedin . . . tripping Mason Raymond in front of the Vancouver bench to set up Higgins goal, Vancouvers fourth . . . a roughing call on Roberto Luongo that happened while he was scoring San Joses final goal . . . then a cross-checking and a misconduct penalty nine second from games end.But the game was lost earlier than the box scores indicates. Vancouver is the superior side, and there can be no more doubt about that. Whatever the Sharks get from this series will have to come in defiance of the odds, the skill level and the competition.But this is exactly how they got the reputation for hitting E too early.
Yes, Vancouver is better, but not four goals better, not dominating possession and zone time better, and certainly not composure better. Even Bieksas fight with Patrick Marleau late in the second period, which had some Sharks grousing about Bieksas reputation as a guy who fights selectively against non-heavyweights, produced no useful response from the Sharks.And heres the killer, again from McLellan.We had some guys that really showed up and committed themselves to the team. Then we had some guys that weren't sure.That is the most damning sentence of all. And heres the second worst.We've got to regroup," he said. "We've got to find some composure, take our battle level up. With that being said, as I mentioned, 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.And the ones to whom McLellan referred?I'll hide that part. You guys get to decide.Thats the worst sign of all -- when a coach lets the media pick out the players who worked hard enough from the ones who didnt. Thats the international sign of, OK, you guys did it to yourselves again. Now youre going to undo it, or live with the consequences.This is a tactic that sometimes works. It is also the last card in the deck. There is nothing more after this except the players themselves -- raw and naked against a buffeting wind of derision and disrespect. They either make this a series now, or they slink off worse off than they were when they began -- and back on the list of the games great underachievers.And Ben Eager? He was Ben Eager to the end, which is more than can be said of too many of his mates.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.