VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The harder the San Jose Sharks tried to get back at the Vancouver Canucks, the further they fell behind.
Daniel Sedin netted his second power-play goal of the game, Chris Higgins added another, and Mason Raymond scored just after a penalty expired in the third period for the Canucks, who routed the undisciplined Sharks, 7-3, and took a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.
“If we had a bad power play they could take some liberties against us, but when you’ve got a power play as good as us it makes them second guess trying to finish hits,” said Higgins, who also had two assists. “It’s a big weapon for us. If we can get them to take bad penalties, all the better.”
The game became a blowout in the third period, but it turned on a breakaway by defenseman Kevin Bieksa, and his one-sided fight with Sharks forward Patrick Marleau six minutes later. Marleau admitted to dropping his gloves first, and he has two inches and 20 pounds on Bieksa. But Marleau hasn’t fought in five years and was clearly overmatched.
“I’ve got an older brother, too, so I’m used to getting that,” said Marleau, who also scored his third goal in three games during a first-period power play.
Still, the lopsided bout upset the Sharks — especially Ben Eager. San Jose’s tough guy yelled at the Vancouver bench, then ran Daniel Sedin face first into the boards on his next shift 90 seconds later, earning a boarding penalty.
“Eager was ranting and raving at his bench going berserk, but it wasn’t Kevin that dropped the mitts, it was Marleau,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “So I’m not sure what he (Bieksa) was supposed to do there.”
Eager took another penalty for tripping Raymond 6:57 into the third period, Higgins made it 4-2 on the ensuing power play, and the rout was on.
“I can’t see in their heads, but I’m not sure what got them rattled,” said Bieksa, who added an assist on Higgins’ goal to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick. “I don’t really care too much about how they’re feeling. … That’s been the strength of our team all year, our power play. A lot of the times we’ve won by three, four goals. They were close games until the other team started to get undisciplined. And on our power play we capitalized.”
Eager scored with 2:33 left, but even then he ended up in the penalty box for yapping at Roberto Luongo and sparking a scrum. Eager finished with five minor penalties and a 10-minute misconduct as the Sharks combined for 53 minutes in penalties while losing for the fifth time in six games.
San Jose’s lone win was in Game 7 of the second round over Detroit, which got the Sharks into the conference finals for the second straight year. If they don’t quickly regain their composure, their stay will be short.
“Ben Eager’s hit started a bit of a frustration level on our team,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “We didn’t handle it very well. I’m not going to sit here and try to protect them. We lost composure. We were frustrated.”
McLellan praised Eager for his physical play, but said he can’t cross the line and take penalties. Eager didn’t agree with his second penalty for tripping.
“It’s playoff hockey here. It’s the conference finals. I don’t know if that’s the appropriate call there,” Eager said before turning his attention to Bieksa. “He’s a phony. He goes after our top player. He’s been asked many times before (to fight) from lots of players throughout the league, and he’s declined.”
Defenseman Aaron Rome also scored his first NHL playoff goal with 5:30 left as the Canucks poured it on late. But McLellan thought the game changed when Bieksa scored the go-ahead goal on a breakaway with 7:55 left in the second period.
Bieksa, who scored the tying goal in a 3-2 comeback win in Game 1, beat four Sharks up the ice to take a cross-ice, blue line-to-blue line pass from Chris Higgins. He then beat goalie Antti Niemi with a quick shot between the legs.
“They had more battle in their game than we did,” McLellan said. “This time of the year when you have more battle and more tenacity, you’re going to win.”
Daniel Sedin and Raffi Torres scored 39 seconds apart in the first period, Luongo finished with 28 saves, and Raymond added another power-play goal — on a too many men penalty that negated Joe Thornton’s breakaway — with 3:18 left as the Canucks went 3 for 7 with the man advantage.
Logan Couture also scored a first-period, power-play goal for the Sharks, and Niemi made 31 saves. The best-of-seven series resumes in San Jose with Game 3 on Friday night. Game 4 is on Sunday.
“We have to win the next game. Have to,” Couture said. “We’ve got to treat it like Game 7. We should have treated (Wednesday) like Game 7, and we didn’t.”