Ratto: Answers await in Sharks-Canucks Game 2

May 16, 2011, 7:10 pm
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- One of the best things about losing Game 1 of a series is that any old excuse will work. Tired? Candy-legs? Distracted? Not enough time to scout properly? Great.

And if you do it on the road, even better. Dont get the last change? Cant match up? Disadvantage on faceoffs? Ice bad? Boards too lively? Crowd a distraction? Sure, what the hell. Its all good when its bad.

Game 2, though, is where the answers are given, and when the explanations for a small sample size event stop. The Sharks may not be able to take a mulligan on Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, but they will enter Game 2 knowing that the issues are starkly simple.

Win. Or prepare to face the whirlwind.

At this stage, talent will win out, and excuses will turn you out. The last 28 teams to win the first two games of a series at conference final level or beyond have won, and the last team to go down 0-2 and win was Pittsburgh in the 1991 Eastern Conference Final. That team also defied logic by being taken to seven games in the first round and still winning the Stanley Cup, and the only other team to do so since then was the 1992 Penguins.

In short, we will know Wednesday night if the Sharks were tired from the prolongation of the Detroit series, or if the accumulation of hard games (six against Los Angeles, making San Jose and Vancouver the busiest of the four semifinalists) is mocking their calves, or if -- and this has not yet been proven but would be the most dismaying of all -- Vancouver is simply better.

That was the explanation last year for why the Sharks went down to Chicago, and it was entirely correct. The Blackhawks were simply and comprehensively better, the superior team, and would have been if the series had been best-of-15.

There is insufficient evidence to repeat that claim this year, not off one game in which the Sharks slowly but surely got eased out of Rogers Arena. They did get the giftiest goal (Joe Thorntons), they didnt possess the puck very long or well, and they wasted Antti Niemis latest Niemi-ism. And they lost, because Vancouver was better when the chips go in the middle of the table.

Again, thats only one, and things change swiftly and without explanation, more in hockey than in any other sport. But a Canuck win in Game 2 would go a long way to proving the same point. That theyre better, and that the Sharks have hit their logical end.

A Sharks win, on the other hand, would give us not only a series, but likely a very long and arduous one, the kind that does a great rating but plays hob with the psyches of the fellows. A win would make this a fair fight between equals, and who doesnt like a fair fight among equals. Other than the WWE, I mean?

So the Sharks dont get to be tired any more. They either get to win, or they get to turn this very possible dream into a damned near impossible task. And nobody is going to be all that keen on knowing why they didnt -- not while theres still a lot of ifs still to be played.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.