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Sharks stars fading when it counts in NHL playoffs

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It’s all too appropriate that in the arena named in honor of former heavyweight champ Joe Louis, the Detroit Red Wings once again battled off the ropes while the Sharks are still searching for that elusive knockout punch.

Once on the verge of getting swept in the series, Detroit has now survived three straight must-win games. Just how did a bigger, healthier and supposedly deeper San Jose team suddenly become so beatable?

While the Red Wings’ best players continually rose to the challenge, the Sharks’ big guns fell silent. Not only are the Sharks 0-for-10 on power plays during their three-game slide, their top two players — Joe Thornton and Patty Marleau — each have yet to score a goal in the series.

While Thornton has notched five assists and played solidly at both ends of the ice, Marleau remains mystifyingly ineffective.

After leading the league with 26 home goals in the regular season, along with a team-high nine game-winners and a franchise-record three overtime goals, the Sharks’ all-time scoring leader has zero points against Detroit.

Sadly, Marleau’s struggles against the Red Wings are nothing new. In 17 career playoff games against Detroit, he has all of two goals and two assists.

Former teammate Jeremy Roenick admitted he went too far in calling Marleau “gutless” on national TV, but following another lackluster performance Tuesday, Patty is hardly winning any new admirers. Roenick added, “I love the Sharks. I just want to see more from a $6 million man.”

In all fairness, the Sharks’ slump is not just about Marleau and Thornton. Usually reliable defensemen Ian White and Nicolas Wallin have both been on the ice for five Red Wings goals the past two games. Injured winger Ryan Clowe’s toughness and talent (13 points in 11 playoff games) was also sorely missed Tuesday. The Sharks can only hope he can make it back for Game 7 on Thursday in San Jose.

Meanwhile, Roenick is sounding more and more like hockey’s answer to Charles Barkley. Like Sir Charles, Roenick is no stranger to controversy. He has been implicated in high-stakes sports gambling, publicly told fans to “kiss my ass” when many claimed the players were spoiled during the 2004 strike, and feuded with USA Hockey officials saying he was “blackballed” in being passed over for the 2006 Olympic team. Then again, in his last year in the league while playing for the Sharks, Roenick was a frequent guest on KGO (810 AM) and couldn’t have been more gracious.

NHL fans ought to send him thank-you notes for helping to move the Stanley Cup playoffs out of the shadows of Major League Baseball and the NBA playoffs. If only Marleau and Thornton would follow suit in Game 7, now that would be a headline long overdue.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.