The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks got nasty in the NHL's Western Conference final Wednesday.
Nasty on the scoreboard, nasty on the ice, and nasty in aftermath.
The Canucks rolled to a 7-3 victory at Rogers Arena, and took a 2-0 series lead on the way to San Jose for Friday's Game 3. The Canucks scored four times in the third period, three times on the power play, and are two wins away from their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 17 years.
The results have not sat well with the Sharks, and the best-of-seven series came to a boil in Game 2. The animosity began when San Jose's Patrick Marleau challenged Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa in the second period, after the latter had scored to make it 3-2 Vancouver.
Bieksa pummeled Marleau and triggered a meltdown from Sharks teammate Ben Eager, who has a long gripe with the Canucks defenceman. Eager began chirping from the bench, and losing his wits on the ice.
"We've seen that before with Kevin," Eager said. "It's sad that someone is going to sign him for big money [in free agency]when he's a phony. He goes after our top player. He's been asked [to fight]many times before by lots of players throughout the league, and he has declined."
Eager, who is 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs., was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks last year. During their second-round playoff victory over Vancouver, then-Hawk Adam Burish called Bieksa a "spot picker" who preyed on NHL weaklings but wouldn't dare fight Big Ben.
"If they want to worry about that kind of stuff, than that's fine, and that's to our advantage," Bieksa said. "Our power play did a great job tonight of making them pay for some of their penalties. Our focus is on winning this series, that's the important thing."
Eager's on-ice response included a hit from behind on Daniel Sedin that drew a two-minute boarding penalty. Sedin didn't lobby for any further league discipline, and offered a better defence of the play than Eager.
"I'm sure I'll be getting a phone call," the Sharks winger said. "I always do."
Vigneault sarcastically said that Sedin "embellished" the hit - a jab at charges that Canucks players fake their way into power plays. The coach said he was "confident" that the NHL would do "the right thing."
Chris Higgins scored a power-play goal to make it 4-2 early in the third, after Eager committed a needless tripping penalty, taking out Mason Raymond's feet by the boards.
Eager scored the game's final goal, long after the route was on, and barked at a fallen Roberto Luongo. He told the Canucks goalie to "stay on the ice," which drew yet another scrum.
The Ottawa native served 20 minutes in penalties, and was flashed by a female fan while sitting in the penalty box.
The Sharks are also irked with Canucks centre Maxim Lapierre, after he declined to fight winger Ryane Clowe.
"He backed away shaking his gloves. Obviously, when you shake your gloves, that's a sign you want to fight," Clowe said. "I should've known better. I played with him in junior and he was a coward then, and he obviously hasn't changed."
Lapierre would not comment when told of Clowe's synopsis.
Clowe said Lapierre went after rookie Logan Couture, who scored a skillful goal to give San Jose a 1-0 lead early in the first.
Marleau had not fought since 2007, and has taken plenty of heat in these playoffs, worse than in previous years. But he scored for a third consecutive game Wednesday, and he dropped his gloves at Bieksa's feet.
"[Marleau]wants to win, he's a gamer," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who was wearing a bloody welt under his left eye from a Henrik Sedin high-stick. "It's too bad we didn't have a bunch of gamers tonight."
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan had the same message. He said he would no longer "hide" players who are not giving their best, but wouldn't name names.
"We had some guys who really showed up and committed themselves," the coach said. "And we have some other guys who weren't sure."
Vancouver had goals 39 seconds apart from Daniel Sedin and Raffi Torres to take a 2-1 lead midway through a wild first period. San Jose's power play struck twice in the first, but only because Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo continued his playoff propensity for allowing stupefying goals.
On this occasion, Marleau poked at a puck as Luongo was scooping it back to his body, and after video review, the Sharks had a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes.
Sedin scored early in the final period to secure the victory, while Raymond and defenceman Aaron Rome added insult to injury. Henrik Sedin, Dan Hamhuis and Higgins each had three points, and six Canucks had multi-point games.