Ratto: Canucks constrict Sharks to win in Game 1

May 16, 2011, 2:52 am
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May 15, 2011RATTOARCHIVESHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEONHLPAGE VANCOUVERPAGESERIESSCHEDULE BOX SCORERay Ratto
CSNBayArea.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Todd McLellan put the end of San Joses night at the 17-minute mark of the second period. Before that, he said, they were doing well enough. After that, they got leg-heavy and brain-weary. They got, well, a little bit doggy.

I thought our team looked tired, sluggish, the San Jose head coach said as he surveyed the shards of Vancouver's 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final. There are nights when we lose our legs, but our minds are still pretty sharp. I didn't think that was the case tonight. It started with the ears and worked all the way through the body. We were like dogs chasing cars down the freeway.

Well, woof, to coin a phrase. The cars arent going to go any slower, so the dogs better either find parked ones or get a better head start on the moving ones.

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The underpinning of McLellans remarks was that somehow the weariness of the Detroit series suddenly grabbed them by the calves and cerebra with about three minutes left in the second period, and that the Canucks poised themselves to counterattack and win the day.

Well, OK. But thats pretty much how Vancouver usually does it, which is why the Canucks have home ice, and why they won Game 1.

What is more, the Canucks established signs earlier in the game that they were either fresher, more determined, or more properly wired for the kind of game that awaited them.

They won faceoffs, they didnt let the Sharks win and keep the offensive zone with any regularity, and they played well enough to keep the Sharks within arms reach even after goalie Roberto Luongos howler of a clearance, ostensibly aimed at Henrik Sedin but delivered neatly to Joe Thornton for the games first goal.

In short, San Jose got a gift, and didnt press its advantage . . . maybe because it couldnt. Maybe it was Motor City Syndrome, or the Seventh Game Blues.

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Then again, all the other teams who came off seventh games this postseason won their next game except Philadelphia, which played Boston, also coming off a seven-game series.

More likely, the Sharks never established a hold of the game, and let the Canucks hang around long enough to do so. Thats way worse than We were tired from the Detroit series.

We put the puck into very poor spots, McLellan said, essentially revealing the lady behind the curtain. They eventually beat us at the type of game we wanted to play. They laid it in behind, they won a lot of races, they sustained offensive zone time.

And the cruncher?

We got to find a way to get energized as a hockey club, he said. That starts with the mental part of it first.

Oh, there were enough things to grumble about if the Sharks wanted to do so. Dany Heatley looked to have been hosed on an offside call as he was poised to break in alone on Luongo, and he also had an issue both during and after the game with the third period elbowing call he took on Raffi Torres that came between Kevin Bieksas tying goal at 7:02 of the third and Henrik Sedins game-winner at 8:21.

And everyone could add five penalties for the Sharks and one for the Canucks and turn it into a talking point.

But that obscures the greater truth of this series, revealed already for your enjoyment and edification.

The Sharks cannot win with Antti Niemi at the business end of a jai alai fronton. They cannot win by staying close. They have to win by establishing the parameters of the game early, and holding them throughout. They are playing a team with deeper talent, and the best way to negate that is to do more than start as the superior team. It is to maintain it.

I thought for 37 minutes we were able to skate, McLellan said. We needed to get a couple more opportunities to go in for us. Basically what happened, I thought the team that potentially was rusty -- because they hadn't played for a while -- found their legs while we lost ours.

When you look at the route we took to get here, they had a few days off. We had an emotional, taxing game. You know we're lucky enough to be playing.

One Shark who didnt play was defenseman Jason Demers, a pregame scratch that came as a surprise to most observers. He did come off the ice late in Game 7 of the Detroit series covering his ribs, but McLellan said only, He has bumps and bruises, like everyone else.

In his stead, Kent Huskins made his first appearance since February, and was not either an appreciable plus or minus. Ben Eager and Jamal Mayers were reunited on the fourth line on Scott Nichols flanks, and Eager had his most solid game of the postseason, with three purposeful shots, and a couple of Hi, nice to see you hits on Alexander Edler and Daniel Sedin.

But this was not a game of individual highs for the Sharks. They held their own again Ryan Keslers line, but the Sedin line combined for 11 shots and the two third period goals that punctuated what was being revealed well before that.

Playing Vancouver even is playing Vancouver from behind. Maybe Game 1 can be laid in part at the feet of the taxing Detroit series, but Game 2 cannot. Not if the Sharks plan to reach the finals.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.