Patrick Marleau didn't tally a point against the Detroit Red Wings through six games. The last time he faced them, it was the nadir of his postseason: An invisible performance that came after he was called out by his fans, his coach and his former teammate Jeremy Roenick, who infamously called him "gutless" after Game 5 on VERSUS.
Game 7 was gut-check time for Marleau. Guess what? He has them when it matters most, and the San Jose Sharks are now four wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals, having survived the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7, 3-2, and after a miraculous three-game comeback in the Western Conference semifinals.
"The job's not finished yet," said Marleau on VERSUS, wearing the same earnest expression he wears no matter the adversity. "But I like the way things ended, that's for sure."
It ended thanks to a game-winning goal by Marleau at 12:13 of the third period:
Dan Boyle was the catalyst for this goal, sending a perfect pass through the legs of Brian Rafalski to Devin Setoguchi, who also scored the opening goal for the Sharks. He fired on Jimmy Howard, who made the save and left a rebound; Marleau, who motored to the crease, was there to cash it into the open net.
As much as Marleau was a non-factor in the previous six games, he was a huge piece of the Sharks' Game 7 win. And all Roenick could do after the Sharks' victory was spin his caustic critique while praising Patrick Marleau.
Marleau played 20:36, had five shots, two shots blocked and two shots missed. He was active in the offensive zone, sometimes physically: hitting Niklas Kronwall to jar a puck loose in the offensive zone during the first period.
Defensively, he was one of the best forwards in the game. He tied up Valtteri Filppula in the slot on a Wings power play to prevent a chance. With 20 seconds left in the game and the Sharks up by a goal, he leveled Patrick Eaves with a hit to prevent another chance.
Then, with the crowd going berserk and the seconds ticking down, he had the final clearing attempt of Game 7, ending the Red Wings' last great rally in a series filled with them.
It was a hell of a performance for Marleau. He proved his critics wrong; I'll freely raise my hand as someone who thought he was such a liability that Todd McLellan should have considered scratching him. So yeah, writing this with egg on my face was a challenge.
But all his most vocal critic, Jeremy Roenick, could do was admit to some "tough love" and lather on the praise.
The Sharks got some breaks in Game 7 with Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary going out with injuries, and Johan Franzen scratched, but make no mistake: They won Game 7 with an inspired effort, through the play of Thornton and Niemi and Setoguchi and Boyle …
… and, as unlikely as it seemed earlier this week, thanks to Marleau.
"I don't think there's one team in the league that wouldn't want him," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "He's a big reason why they're moving on."