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Roenick, Marleau and Eager: The playoff guts domino effect

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Before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the last time San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau fought in a National Hockey League game was on Dec. 20, 2007.

It was against the Phoenix Coyotes, during a post-whistle scrum between the teams. Marleau paired off with defenseman Nick Boynton. Fighting next to them in this saloon brawl were Coyotes pest Dan Carcillo … and Jeremy Roenick:

Watching the fight, you can see where Roenick might begin to formulate long-held beliefs about whether or not a player is "gutless." Marleau is "fighting" Boynton like a parent trying to put an ill-fitting holiday sweater on a child. Roenick, meanwhile, is leaping onto piles and applying MMA-style chokeholds on rabid penalty minute leaders.

After Game 5 of the Sharks' series against the Detroit Red Wings, Roenick infamously called Marleau's performance "gutless." Two games later, Marleau was a Game 7 hero in helping the Sharks to advance to the conference finals. Many observers drew a line from Roenick's comments to Marleau's resurgence in the playoffs.

New round, new opponent, but the link between Roenick in the media and Marleau on the ice continues to be one of the biggest storylines this postseason. Did Marleau fight Kevin Bieksa in Game 2 because Jeremy Roenick questioned his gallantry?

Because that fight ended up lighting the fuse of Ben Eager, to the detriment of the Sharks in that 7-3 loss.

As a fresher, the Marleau/Bieksa fight:

Larry Brown of Larry Brown Sports sees a Marleau/Roenick domino effect:

He took himself out of Game 2 by getting into a fight when he shouldn't have, and one has to wonder if this is all a response to Jeremy Roenick. If it is, that's sad, and Marleau should just stick to what he does best — playing hockey. Leave the fighting to everyone else.

The tough love continued from Roenick on VERSUS during Game 2, with him criticizing Marleau's defensive play by lauding his fight.

Does Keith Jones have a point? Did Roenick inspire this effort from Marleau?

Because he's the thing: Despite everyone thinking this was going to be Max Talbot Part Deux, it didn't inspire a team as much as it set off Ben Eager. From the Mercury News:

The scrap infuriated Sharks forward Ben Eager, who was seen yelling at the Canucks bench right before he took a boarding penalty on Daniel Sedin just 1:34 later. Eager's mood or views on the fight didn't change much when he met with the media for the postgame scrum.

Eager, who fought Bieksa in 2009, referred to the Canuck as a "phony" and that he had declined previous invitations to fight. "He was a coward then, and that hasn't changed," he said, referring to when the two played junior hockey in Ontario.

So inspired was Eager after that Marleau fight at 17:58 of the second period that he took a boarding penalty (that could have been a major) on Daniel Sedin; a tripping penalty on Mason Raymond that resulted in a Canucks power-play goal; and then 14 minutes in penalties in the last 2:33 of the game.

But he did score to make it a 7-3 game, too.

Coach Todd McLellan was asked about Eager and Marleau after the loss:

Q.  Tell me what you want Eager to do?
COACH McLELLAN:  Ben Eager is one of our faster forwards, one of our more physical forwards.  I think he has the ability to win battles and create scrums.  I do believe the other team knows when he's on the ice.  The fact that Ben played a lot more minutes tonight was rewarding for us.

Now the negative.  He can't march to the penalty box on an ongoing basis.  The tradeoff obviously didn't work in our favor tonight.

Q.  Altogether, not what you wanted?
COACH McLELLAN:  I'd like him to play that game, without going to the penalty box. Simple as that.

Q.  The Marleau fights, what impact did that have on the game?
COACH McLELLAN:  I'm not sure it had a major impact on the game at all.  I thought maybe at that point we got a little frustrated because we wanted to even the score.  That was Ben Eager taking a run at one of the Sedins.  It probably grew from there a little bit.

But at this point, you've got to have your emotions in check.  You've got to maintain some composure.  You're never really out of it.  We saw that last night.  I think we talked about the Boston game.  You're never really out of it.  We've been down four and been able to fight back.  Composure all the way through the night is important, sticking to a game plan.

So the thinking goes: Roenick's criticism sparked Marleau to fight, which sparked Eager to go psycho. (Great blog name, by the way.)

We think it's safe to say that Jeremy Roenick's had a greater impact on the Sharks in the playoffs than Dany Heatley. Then again, Pat Falloon has almost had more impact than Heatley at the rate Heatley's goating, er, going.

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