Ratto: Sharks win Game 3 on McLellan's script

May 21, 2011, 4:14 am
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Ray Ratto

SAN JOSE -- It seems so easy for the Sharks to play with the Vancouver Canucks -- once you see them actually do it.

They scored early and often. They played to their strengths. They made their power plays count and held serve on just enough big penalty kills. They got another big night, two goals worth, out of Spleenless Patty Marleau. They got a game-winner from Dan Boyle on a third period 5-on-3 advantage. They blocked 26 shots including four in an extended 5-on-3 penalty kill. They got more superb goaltending from Antti Niemi, who is so over his stuttering start against Los Angeles.

And even at that, they escaped on the handle end of a 4-3 close shave in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final because . . . well, because thats just the way theyre doing this job. As close to the third rail as a fellow can get without losing body hair.

And when you throw in the numerous wild cards for Game 4, you lose all sense of where this series is going to go, or how its going to get there.

But well get to that in a minute. Right now, the Sharks are basking in the knowledge that once again, as darkness looms over their futures, they can rise and play big games their way.

Most of it is will, head coach Todd McLellan said when asked to explain the difference in the Sharks pace and discipline from Game 2 to Game 3. Some nights you feel better. Some nights you just have it. Some nights the other team doesn't feel as good. There are physical reasons for it.

There is some tactics to it, but it didn't change much from Game 1 and 2 really. The players will tell you that. It's about executing. When you execute and make plays, you're faster. When you bobble it, you're batting it around, it's in your feet, you're not moving, you're slower. It's as simple as that.

That doesnt explain Marleau or Joe Thornton, who have been on their games since Game 7 of the Detroit series (for Marleau) and the entire postseason (for Thornton). Marleau displayed more energy in Game 3 than he did in the prior three, when he started his five-goals-in-four-games run, and Thornton was at his prohibitive best in helping corral the previous rampant Sedin-Sedin-Burrows line.

We just had our legs, Thornton said. (We) put pucks in where we could get them back, we drew some penalties. When we got our power play, we executed well. But, yeah, just being hard on pucks, retrieving pucks hard. We did that early.

Early enough to the tune of a 3-0 lead after 17 minutes and change, the two Marleau goals and a Ryane Clowe rebound of a Boyle drive.

But the defining moment might have been when the Sharks killed a 5-on-3 disadvantage caused by a burst of Andrew Desjardins misbehaviors. Niemi saved five shots, and Douglas Murray, Joe Pavelski and Ian White combined to block four more to keep the Canucks from making the run that they made in the third period because of a major and game misconduct dealt out to Jamie McGinn for running Aaron Rome from behind.

On a night of misdemeanors and felonies (five of the seven goals came on power plays, a fair number since there were 17 of them), special teams were clearly dominant factors.

But so, too, was San Joses recommitment to detail work, to dealing with Vancouver in groups of five rather than going on little one-on-one raids that distorted their defensive shape and rendered their forechecking attempts inert.

It was, in short, a fine comeback performance that bodes well for . . . well, wait a minute there. We did speak of wild cards here, to wit:

Vancouver may be without its third defense pair, Christian Ehrhoff and Rome, due to injuries caused by Sharks hits. Ehrhoff went off with 5:40 left in the second due to a hit by McGinn, one of the members of McLellans Worcester Surprise, the new fourth line that replaced Ben Eager, Scott Nichol and Benn Ferriero. McGinn also laid out Rome, boarding him with 8:38 and getting a major and an ejection.

McGinn may be suspended for the hit, which resulted in the two third period Vancouver goals, by Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa.

Logan Couture was laid out in a collision with Clowe 1:59 into the second period, and came back to the bench momentarily before being sent back to the dressing room. McLellan said Couture would play Game 4, but he also gave every indication that Eager would play Game 3, so believe him at your peril.

In short, the Sharks did what they had to do, long enough, to save themselves the danger of facing doom four times in succession. And now, barring the rapture, they have earned not only the right to be confident about Game 4 Sunday, but Game 5 in Vancouver as well.

But dont be surprised if they cut the meat a little fine again. It is what they do. It is the way they do it.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.