Ratto: Sharks poised to finish what they started

Ratto: Sharks poised to finish what they started
April 22, 2011, 9:33 pm
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Ray Ratto

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks are in great shape has often been code for The Sharks are preparing to emit an enormous egg. Thats what happens when your reputation as a skilled and deep team clashes with your reputation for postseason tracheotomies.

But as the San Joses prepare for Game 5 of this Western Conference quarterfinal series with the wobbling Los Angeles Kings, one gets a greater sense they can finish this series without too much fuss or muss because they have gotten so much production from the beneath-the-radar brigade.

Oh, sure there are the cheap amusements like, Is Dany Heatley really a dirty play like Terry Murray said he is? and Who was Joe Thornton blowing a kiss to after his goal in Game 4? But those are empty calories, not to be trusted, for entertainment purposes only.

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What makes one think the Sharks will finish this off with a sonic stomp is the fact that so much of the game-changing is being done not by the big names, but by the small players.

Like Ian White, the former Carolina and Toronto defenseman who began his postseason career with an exquisite headache and is now the second leading scoring defenseman in the league.

Like Scott Nichol, the belt sander with feet who altered Game 4 by first submitting to King Drew Doughtys temper and then elevating it to such a point that he turned the game.

And like Kyle Wellwood, the right wing on the third line who has altered not only his linemates play but those of the Kings who have faced it.

Wellwoods contributions have been the most subtle; his forecheck in Game 4 led directly to the Thornton goal that crushed L.A.s one comeback, and his three assists and plus-4 stand out as numbers, but for the most part he has been simply a steady contributor to the overall health of the Joe Pavelski line.

Certainly this has been good for me, the stubbornly reserved winger said. I think I jelled well with Joe and Torrey (Mitchell), and theres always that feeling when youre fitting in, the game is much more comfortable. Its more fun when youre a contributor.

Wellwood has bounced about from Toronto to Vancouver to Atlant Moscow Oblast (no, not Atlanta) to St. Louis, but he has finally found a consistent place here, to the point where head coach Todd McLellan is probably underutilizing him by not giving him some power play time such is his passing and vision ability.

White, on the other hand, has seen this coming since he started playing. He just never got a chance to show it.

Oh, this is how Ive imagined it all along, he said. I knew I could play at a high level, contribute and help us win. Im kind of built for the postseason, I think. I can dig down deeper, give some extra, contribute where its needed. Ive been ready for this.

That said, five assists in seven periods is an exemplary bit of production.

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Finally, there is Nichol, who engaged with Doughty (well, was engaged with Doughty, more like) enough to take him to the penalty box on coincidental minor penalties that resulted in two Sharks goals.

Nichol seemed a bit sheepish about his contribution for attribution, though he understands the value of the tradeoff between the fourth-line center and the top defenseman. So does Dan Boyle, the Sharks top defenseman, who said, Oh, thats a tradeoff that works in our favor. Its a very good trade, in fact.

He then broke into laughter as he struggled not to make it seem like Nichol was acceptable collateral damage. Make sure you write that I was laughing when I said that, he said. Then he laughed again.

These bricks in the wall have given San Jose a depth advantage that some people suspected wasnt there, or that could be exploited later in the postseason. And maybe it can. But so far, not now, not here, not by the Kings. And when the not-quite-big-names are owning their space, its easier for the dreadnoughts to own theirs as well.

In short, the Sharks may turn this back into a series with a lackluster performance Saturday night, but theyre going to work very hard to do so, because theyve shown all the signs and all the numbers required to be a team that finishes what it starts rather than being finished by what it starts.

WATCH: Game 4 highlights

Heatley explained his trip on Kings defenseman Alec Martinez that so irritated Murray as a simple case of, He tried to get out of my way, and I just didnt move. Whatever. To the surprise of no people, there was no interest from the league in convening a disciplinary hearing.

The Sharks lead the league in the postseason with a 57.4 percent faceoff conversion rate, and Thornton is third at 64.6, behind only Boyd Gordon of Washington and Chris Drury of New York.

No lineup or line changes are expected, and all players are healthy. Friday was mostly a mentalphysicalmaintenance day, so there was no organized practice. The Kings worked out in Los Angeles and arrived later Friday.