SAN JOSE -- Desperately seeking a way out of the 3-0 hole they have dug for themselves, the Vancouver Canucks played the embellishment card on Monday.
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa was the lead actor in this little drama that played out in the hallway of the HP Pavilion after Vancouver's optional practice.
Bieksa suggested San Jose's top two centres, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, are not playing the game with integrity and accused them of using embellishment to draw penalties. He also referred to them as "so-called Canadians."
"Couture, you can't go near the guy, he snaps his head back, he flails," Bieksa told reporters. "You touch him after the whistle and he is going to jump off the ice and throw himself into the glass. These are hard calls for the officials to make and right now they are going against us.
"This isn’t my opinion. The evidence is in the video. . .Hank (Sedin) touches him off the faceoff, he does a full back arch and his glove goes flying off in the corner.”
Bieksa also had harsh words for Thornton.
"Thornton, another so-called Canadian, supposed to play the game with integrity. . .He gets slashed, he takes his glove off and shakes his hand. The ref takes a couple of seconds to look at that and make a call. That’s a critical time in the game when we go down two men."
Bieksa's comments were clearly calculated and not a spur-of-the-moment thing. He made them first to a small group of reporters, then repeated them when all the TV cameras arrived. He even brought along a hockey stick to use as a prop as he tried to demonstrate how Couture rocks his head back after getting brushed with the butt end in the faceoff circle.
The Canucks are obviously seeking any edge they can possibly get as they try to extend the series. Game 4 goes Tuesday night at the HP Pavilion. They are also looking to deflect attention away from their own deficiencies that have become apparent in this series.
Bieksa's comments don't figure to play particularly well among many hockey observers. The Canucks -- most notably the likes of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows -- have long been accused of embellishment to sell penalties. And then there's the fact that a Bieksa spear to the groin knocked San Jose forward Martin Havlat out of the series in Game 1.
Bieksa said none of that matters.
"Whether or not you think we’re embellishers or not doesn’t take away the fact those two guys are doing it as well," he said. "So, forget about the past. Look at this series. I don’t feel like we’ve embellished calls, and it’s going the other way.
“The twins get hacked and slashed and whacked more than anyone If they ever try to draw a penalty or embellish it, they’re called on it. By everybody.
“(Couture and Thornton) are making it tough on the officials. These are tough calls for the officials to make, because they’re not sure on the extent of the damage.
“It’s not (a problem with) the officials. This is about guys playing the game with integrity.”
The Sharks have four power-play goals in the series and three of them came in Sunday's night's 5-2 win that gave San Jose a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.
“Those are two Canadian guys who are supposed to be playing the game with integrity," Bieksa said of Couture and Thornton. "Maybe our team has to do more of that. Maybe we have to try and sell calls.”
He cited the current hard-hitting series between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings as hockey being played the right way.
“I haven’t seen one guy embellish, one guy trying to draw a penalty," he said. "That’s hard-nosed hockey.”
Reached for comment by the San Jose Mercury News, Couture said: "Really?" He then added, “there’s really not much to say. I’m not going to go to the media and do any talking. I’ll do my talking on the ice,”
Coach Alain Vigneault had only a terse comment on Bieksa's remarks.
"We are the embellishers," Vigneault said, referring to accusations his team has faced in the past.
Vigneault, meanwhile, said he has decided who will start in goal in Game 4, but would not say if it will be Cory Schneider or Roberto Luongo.
He challenged his team to win Game 4 and then move on from there.
"I believe we can win one game," he said. "We haven't beaten the Sharks once this year. I believe we can do it tomorrow."
The Canucks think they have have competed well five-on-five in this series, but have been hurt by the San Jose power play.
"They have gotten definite momentum from the number of penalties that have been called on us and their power play has moved the puck extremely well and has definitely given them momentum," Vigneault said. "Five-on-five this series has been pretty evenly matched, but their top players have found a way to find the back of the net."
Defenceman Dan Hamhuis hopes Vancouver's back end can help the team manufacture some more goals. The Canucks have been outscored 11-5 in the series and only three of those goals have come from forwards.
"That is one of the things we talked about," Hamhuis said. "We have good D who can skate and move the puck and enjoy being part of the offence. We want to create more of that, we haven't scored enough goals in this series and that's one thing we are going to try and do better."
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