VANCOUVER – The Western Conference final has turned nasty.
There was frustration on the ice and some angry words in the dressing room after the Vancouver Canucks pounded the San Jose Sharks 7-3 Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Daniel Sedin led the Canucks with two power-play goals, and was on the receiving end of a rough hit from behind in the second period by San Jose’s Ben Eager. The Canucks want the NHL to discipline Eager, who was called for boarding on the play.
Meanwhile, the Sharks’ tough guy called Canuck defensive Kevin Bieksa “a phoney” for fighting San Jose’s Patrick Marleau.
It was Marleau’s first fight in five years, and that angered Eager.
“We have seen that before with Kevin,” Eager said. “It’s sad someone is going to sign him to big money when he’s a phoney.
“He goes after our top player. He’s been asked (to fight) many times before, by lots of players throughout the league. He’s declined.”
Bieksa shrugged off Eager’s accusations.
“I’m not going to say too much about that,” he said. “Right now my focus is on winning a series. If they want to worry about that kind of stuff, that’s fine, that’ to our advantage.
“Our power play did a great job tonight of making them pay for some of their penalties. Our focus is on winning a series. That’s the important thing.”
Chris Higgins, on the power play, Mason Raymond and Aaron Rome also scored for the Canucks, who exploded for four third-period goals.
Sedin leads the playoffs with five power-play goals. His eight goals are tied for the playoff lead with Sean Bergenheim of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Logan Couture, Eager and Marleau scored for the Sharks.
Bieksa’s pretty second period goal set the table for the Canucks victory, giving Vancouver a 3-2 lead. His fight with the bigger, heavier Marleau pushed the Sharks over the edge.
“I don’t know what started it,” said Bieksa. “Just two guys battling. Turned out to be a good battle.”
The Sharks were a different team after the fight. They took bad penalties and tried to intimidate the Canucks.
“I can’t see in their heads, I’m not sure what got them rattled,” said Bieksa, who also had an assist on the night.
“I don’t really care too much about how they’re feeling.”
Actress Kim Cattrall and NBA superstar Steve Nash, who both grew up in B.C., were among the towel-waving crowd of 18,860. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also attended the game.
Bieksa broke open a tight game when he took a pass from Higgins, skated in alone, and beat Sharks’ goaltender Antti Niemi with a hard, low shot to give Vancouver a 3-2 lead.
With just over two minutes left in the period, the junk-yard dog tough defenceman dropped his gloves and exchanged punches with Marleau. Bieksa landed several hard, right-handed shots before the linesmen stepped in.
Marleau admitted he started the fight.
“I haven’t fought too many times but I’m the one who dropped my gloves,” said Marleau, who sported a welt on his forehead. “It was my decision too.
“I don’t really know the reason. We just kind of exchanged shots and decided to drop the gloves. No real big reason.”
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said Bieksa helped turn the tide in the game.
“He played a real solid game again tonight at both ends of the rink,” said Vigneault. “He’s competing real hard and played real well for us.”
The Sharks were still in the game after Bieksa’s goal, but lost their composure in the third period. They return home for games Friday and Sunday needing to dig themselves out of a hole.
“I’m not going to sit here and try to protect them,” said Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan. “We lost composure, we were 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.”
Eager’s hit on Sedin late in the late in the second period infuriated the crowd and lit a fire under the Canucks.
Eager ran into Sedin from behind, sending him crashing into the boards. The forward lay on the ice a few seconds before skating to the bench. Sedin returned to score his second power-play goal of the night later in the third period.
Vigneault expects the league to take some sort of action.
“You guys saw the hit,” said Vigneault. “I’m confident the league is going to do the right thing.”
McLellan sees no reason for a suspension.
“I didn’t see him cross the line at all,” he said.
Eager expects to hear from the league.
“I’m sure I will be getting a phone call,” he said. “I always do.”
Overall Eager had five minors and a misconduct during the game.
Couture was frustrated over his team’s performance.
“You lose 7-3, not many people played well,” Couture said. “The list goes on. Its embarrassing.”
The intensity level was cranked up for Game 2. There were several scrums after the whistle and some thundering collisions. The game ended with several shoving matches and punches thrown.
Shark defenceman Douglas Murray set the tone early, flattening Rome with a bruising hit. Bieksa returned the favour, running over former teammate Kyle Wellwood like a cardboard cutout.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo said the Canucks stayed cool while the Sharks saw red.
“Once the game got out of hand you could see their frustration,” he said. “We took punches in the face, what ever we needed to do and we stayed disciplined.”
Bieksa chuckled when reminded he had a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, an assist and a fight.
“It’s great, I guess,” he said. “The main thing is we got the win.”
Bieksa thinks the animosity and intensity will continue to grow as the series progress.
“We came in here expecting it to be a battle,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve really had too many easy games with these guys.
“We expect it to be high intensity, high emotion. We expect it to get even better as the series goes on.”
Notes: The team that has won the first game of the conference final have gone on to an 11-4 record in the series dating back to 1993-94. ….Vancouver replaced forward Tanner Glass with Jeff Tambellini on the fourth line. …Mikael Samuelsson, out since May 9 with a lower body injury, will not travel with the team to San Jose.