Face it. The San Jose Sharks' Patrick Marleau is never going to make much of a difference in a game when his primary contribution is dropping the gloves with a pugilist of say, Kevin Bieksa's pedigree. Marleau is big, yes. Marleau is strong, yes. But Marleau is also Mr. Clean, drawing just 16 penalty minutes in the regular season. Marleau doesn't like to mix it up and Marleau doesn't spend a lot of time in the penalty box either. At his best, he makes others pay for going to the penalty box - 11 power-play goals in all among his team-leading 37 this year for the Sharks.
Marleau made a wrong detour in Game 2 in trying to pick a fight with Bieksa, but was back on the right track Friday night, with San Jose's season on the line. Always a streaky scorer, Marleau - a soft-spoken riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma if there ever was one - picked the right time to get hot for the Sharks. Two more goals last night, four in the series, five in the last four games - he responded to coach Todd McLellan's call for more production from his top forwards in a meaningful way.
Marleau had two goals, Ryane Clowe had one and suddenly, a series that looked as if it could be rout, might produce a little intrigue after all, thanks to San Jose's narrow 4-3 victory over the visiting Vancouver Canucks, in a game that had a little bid of everything:
More bad blood, thanks to a hit from Jamie McGinn that knocked Aaron Rome out of the game in the third period and set up two Vancouver power-play goals.
Some excellent penalty killing by San Jose on a series of five-on-three chances from Vancouver in the second period that ultimately cost them a chance.
Another third-period collapse by the Sharks, who gave up three more third-period goals. In the past six games, it's an astonishing lack of poise: Only five goals surrendered in the first period; four more in the second - and 16 in the third. No game is ever over against the Sharks and their fragile confidence down the stretch.
Still, in the end, they had enough to hang on and close to within a game in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 set for here at high noon Sunday - an appropriate start time given how the animosity is being ramped up.
Marleau, according to coach Todd McLellan, "competed hard. He was on loose pucks. He skated. He blocked shots. He was good in the face-off circle.
"Patty is a multi-faceted player. He's got tons of mobility. He can play in every situation and when he's playing well, you just turn him loose and let him go."
It was a different sort of game early, thanks in part to a delicious bit of misdirection from McLellan, who'd convinced everyone that burly Ben Eager - the villain of the piece in Game 2 - was going to be the answer again.
After McLellan praised Eager up and down, after the Sharks featured him on the Jumbotron interview just prior to the game, they then elected to sit him out last night. Eager led the dumb-penalty parade that cost the Sharks the second game in Vancouver and ultimately, McLellan figured he couldn't take that chance again.
So Eager went to the press box, and so did Scott Nichol and Benn Ferriero - and a new, quicker and ultimately more disciplined fourth line took their place. Net result: The Sharks won the special teams' battle and ultimately the game as well. San Jose held a 15-1 edge in shots through the first 13 minutes of play, opened up a three-goal first-period lead and won going away.
"In dealing with Ben Eager, Ben Eager played four games against us in last year's playoffs and played very effectively for Chicago and didn't take any penalties," assessed McLellan. "So he has the discipline and ability to control himself. We just felt we'd go with a different line-up.
"It's so intense out there right now. There is so much passion in the game that when you're playing ahead and you're not chasing the game, the other team has a tendency to get frustrated."
The Sharks wanted more poise and more discipline, but more than anything, they wanted to put more pucks behind the Canucks' defence and force them to handle the puck. McLellan suggested he wanted to see more sustained attack in the offensive zone, noting that thus far in the series, they had been "one-and-out" too often. Among other things, it meant they'd failed to put sustained pressure on Canucks' goaltender Roberto Luongo, who'd had a couple of fairly easy outings thus far in the series.
The new man on the fourth line, McGinn, helped them do just that, making a major difference, good and bad, same as Eager did the previous game. McGinn knocked out a third of the Canucks' defence corps, first with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit with Christian Ehrhoff in the first period; then by hitting Aaron Rome from behind in the latter stages of the third.
With McGinn tossed out of the game, with a major and a game misconduct, Vancouver scored twice on the power play to make a game of it.
"It didn't look that bad to me," said defenceman Dan Boyle, who ended up with the winning goal for the Sharks. "They fought to the end. The first period was the key for us."
No kidding. Thus far in the series, the Sharks have been badly outplayed in the third periods, which McLellan found ironic, because their third periods were so strong earlier in the playoffs - against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round and then early in the Detroit Red Wings' series as well.
"The first periods weren't good to us against L.A.," said McLellan. "Now we're talking about third periods. If we're fortunate enough to move on, maybe we'll be talking about the second period. That's hockey. That's how it happens."
That's how it happened again last night too - and something they'll need to fix if the Sharks intend to keep those Stanley Cup dreams alive. For one night anyway, they had just enough to hold on.