VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Canucks coach Alain Vigneault may have paid Kevin Bieksa the biggest complement Wednesday by not expressing any surprise, shock or awe that the middleweight defenseman again had a huge, game-changing night.
Vigneault, after all, expects Bieksa to be as good as he was Wednesday in every game.
"We've all known that Kevin is a character guy and a real competitor," Vigneault said following the Canucks' 7-3 win in Game 2 that included a Gordie Howe hat trick for Bieksa. "That's what he did (Wednesday night). That's what he's done for us consistently this year."
Bieksa, though, has clearly saved his best for right now. He was the best player on the ice for most of Game 2, proving again that he might cost the Canucks or another team a pretty penny come July 1, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
His goal in the second period gave the Canucks' the lead for good, and his fight with Patrick Marleau roughly six minutes later directly led to the unraveling of the Sharks in front of 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
Bieksa pounded Marleau; 94 seconds later Ben Eager took a run at Canucks star Daniel Sedin, picking up a boarding penalty in the process. Sharks coach Todd McLellan admitted his team totally lost its cool in the third period when they racked up 42 penalty minutes, leading to a pair of power-play goals for the Canucks.
"I can't see in their heads so I'm not sure what got them rattled, but I don't really care too much about how they're feeling," Bieksa said. "I know we scored a couple big goals in the second. For whatever reason, they took some penalties in the third. That's been the strength of our team all year, our power play. A lot of the games we've won by three, four goals, they were close games until the other team started to get undisciplined."
The Canucks stayed disciplined and scored four times in the third period. Bieksa completed his Gordie Howe trick with an assist on Chris Higgins' game-winning power-play goal 7:56 into the third period.
"He's a huge part of this team, and I continue to be impressed by him every game," Higgins said of Bieksa. "He's just a really good hockey player. He can jump to the holes when he needs to and he plays really good defense. We need him going like that for the rest of the playoffs."
Bieksa was not innocent in the events that led to his fight with Marleau. He jabbed at the Sharks forward, whose last fight was on Dec. 20, 2007, enough times to frustrate Marleau and force him to drop the gloves first. Bieksa quickly tossed his, ripped off Marleau's helmet and proceeded to get in several punches to his face.
"First game we play a lot of shifts, pretty much every shift, against each other. It's looking like we're going to play every shift against each other for the rest of the series," Bieksa said of his battle with Marleau. "I don't know what started it. Just two guys battling. Turned out to be a good battle. He did a good job. After that, he skated to the box. It was fine."
But it wasn't, not for the Sharks.
They were so mad that Bieksa chose to fight one of their superstars -- overlooking, of course, the fact that Marleau dropped the gloves first -- that Eager went like a heat-seeking missile at Daniel Sedin and got a boarding penalty. He picked up another penalty in the third period that led to Higgins' game-winning goal.
Eager wasn't backing down after the game.
"It's sad that someone's gonna sign him for big money when he's a phony," Eager said of Bieksa. "He goes after our top players. He's been asked many times, by lots of players throughout the League, and he's declined."
Bieksa had no response for Eager’s jibe.
"I'm not going to say too much about that," Bieksa said. "Right now my focus is on winning a series. If they want to worry about that kind of stuff, that's fine, that's to our advantage. Our power play did a great job tonight of making them pay for some of their penalties. Our focus is on winning a series. That's the important thing."
The fight was just one of Bieksa's many contributions Wednesday. His goal might have been his biggest, and it certainly will land him on highlight shows across the continent.
Once again Bieksa used his speed to not just join the rush, but to get behind the Sharks defense so he became a viable scoring threat. Higgins, who had just jumped onto the ice, twirled and fired a crossing pass that hit Bieksa in stride. Bieksa slowed at the right hash mark and beat Sharks goalie Antti Niemi with a low shot that gave the Canucks the 3-2 lead.
"I was on the ice for like two seconds and I didn't really expect to see 'Juice' up there, but he was flying so I just gave him the puck," Higgins said.
More than the Bieksa-Marleau tussle, McLellan saw that goal as a backbreaker.
"We have a set forecheck. We've practiced that since September. A player gets skated, all of a sudden it's in your net," McLellan said. "You can't chase this team. They're too good. You have to play with him or ahead of them. From there it started to unravel."
Bieksa tugged on the yarn that led to the Sharks collapse.
Hey, that's what he's supposed to do.
"He played a real solid game again, both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "He's competing real hard. He's playing real well for us."