Gordie Howe Hat Tricks are rare enough in regular-season NHL games. In the playoffs? You're more likely to see humility from Donald Trump.
A goal, an assist and a fight is forever named in honor of Mr. Hockey. On Wednesday night at the Rogers Centre, Kevin Bieksa was the unlikely player to pay tribute in the Vancouver Canucks' rousing 7-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
Bieksa, he of six regular-season goals, now has three in the postseason and two in the last two games. The assist he added, and the short work he made of Sharks forward Patrick Marleau in a second-period fight, made it an all-around thumpin' of San Jose, which is now 0-6 in Western Conference Finals games dating back to last year.
The Sharks need a win or else in Game 3 at home -- and forward Ben Eager needs some anger management.
It was Eager's foolish tripping violation of Canucks forward Mason Raymond at 6:57 of the third period -- with Vancouver up only 3-2 -- that led to Chris Higgins' power-play goal. Previously, it was Eager who rammed Canucks star Daniel Sedin from behind, drawing a boarding penalty with 28 seconds left in the second period of a 3-2 game.
San Jose's rough-and-tumble style was somewhat effective against Detroit in the second round because the Wings never like to get hit much, and because the Sharks' penalty-kill was outstanding. The Canucks, though, just turned the other cheek in this one. Then, they smacked the Sharks in the mouth on the power play, finishing 3-for-6 in the game.
Eager finished off an astonishing night by actually scoring the final goal of the game -- then hovering over goalie Roberto Luongo to talk trash.
What could Eager possibly say, in the waning minutes of a 7-3 game?
"I'll keep that between us," Luongo told the Versus TV cameras afterward. "But it's good he's on the ice. He takes penalties."
The Sharks were quick to say their loss of discipline as a team was most responsible for their defeat, but that would be letting some poor defense off the hook.
Their forwards were slow on the backcheck all night, never more so than on Bieksa's goal, which made it 3-2 at 12:05 of the second. Marleau was caught flat-footed in the neutral zone, as was left-side defender Dan Boyle, and Bieksa cruised in alone for the short-side goal on Antti Niemi, who allowed seven tallies on 38 shots.
Douglas Murray, San Jose's hulking Swedish defenseman, has looked Lilliputian so far in the series, with no points and a minus-3.
It's not like the Canucks were just passive hit-takers in this one, either. Not only did Bieksa win his fight with Marleau, but Vancouver actually was credited with more hits than San Jose (43-35).
Perhaps that helps explain why guys such as Eager looked like mad hatters at the end of this one. No matter what he and the Sharks tried to do to get the Canucks off their game, it all backfired.
Somewhat maligned for their previous lack of postseason production, the Sedin twins were up to their old tricks with a combined five points (two goals for Daniel, three assists for Henrik). They were at their deadly best on both of Daniel's goals, with some trademark quick passing together in the slot. The best was Daniel's quick snipe that really put the game away, 5-2 midway through the third.
The Canucks are now halfway to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994. With four indefatigable lines that just keep coming at you, and a defense that not only can fight a little but score some (it ranks second in blueline playoff scoring, after finishing second during the regular season), there is little, if any, soft underbelly for critics to poke at right now.
The Canucks still have as many Stanley Cups on the mantle -- zero -- as the Sharks do, and they've been in the league a lot longer. The Canucks are familiar with the term "choke," too.
But that's looking all very quaint right now as they steam toward the final, looking like the team to beat for Lord Stanley's silver punchbowl.
As Mr. Hockey might say, "And Howe."