Ratto: Sharks win it their way, the hard way

April 26, 2011, 5:37 am
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Ray Ratto

LOS ANGELES -- In the frantic moments between joy and composure, Todd McLellan said it best, and fastest.

Its the Sharks, he said with a rueful laugh. Thats what we do.

That is scare themselves and everyone around them half-dead, and then sometimes to go all the way. Monday they stopped short.
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Joe Thorntons quick spin-and-shoot 2:22 into overtime propelled the Fins to a 4-3 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings, and a second-round date with one of their two most prominent nemeses, either Detroit or Chicago.

In fact, it was a big night for lot of Sharks who had been taking a bit of a lashing this postseason.
There was Thornton, who scored the game-winner by getting in front of defenseman Willie Mitchell and one-timed a shot off a clot in front of the net into a wide open net.

There was Dany Heatley, who had given the Sharks a 3-2 lead with a nasty one-timer off what he called a jump ball of a pass from Ryane Clowe at 8:48.

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And there was the penalty kill, one of San Joses weakest links, rising to its best work in timing out a five-minute charging penalty to Jamie McGinn at 16:37 for running Brad Richardson that seemed to have doomed the Sharks to a seventh game and all the windpipe problems those brings.

The Kings had scored two of their first three goals on power plays, and McGinns mistake looked like the killer, though McLellan was conciliatory for the moment.

He did what we asked him to do, we wanted him to be aggressive, he said of McGinn. We obviously didnt want the penalty there, but we wanted him to be aggressive.

And they survived that aggression, as badly timed and egregious as it was. Next stop, the second round, where the battle gets exponentially harder.

The first period showed that the Sharks can be re-trained. They were smarter in their own end, quicker out of their own end, better at getting into the Kings passing lanes, used all four lines more than they had in the first five games, and put consistent pressure on the Los Angeles defense.

And . . . they got no goals. Again.

This time, they put 16 shots on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, making it 85 in the six first periods so far, with only a Dany Heatley score in Game 1 to show for all that hyperactivity. In fact, when you throw in blocked shots and missed shots, they threw 30 in Quicks direction, a sign of puck ownership that they did far well efficaciously in game 4.

But in terms of following instructions and resembling the team that raced through the second half of the regular season, they did fine. There is, after all, no other way for them to advance, and one got the feeling that the only way they could fail was to deviate from their first period performance.

Joe Pavelskis line was again the most active, and Pavelski the most singularly active, getting off five shots, most of them from close enough and with sufficient consequence to pass as good chances.

The Kings, on the other hand, got only one shot from its pest line of Brad Richardson, Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds, as the Sharks did a much more thorough job of playing in all three zones.

It was also a more physical game than any of the others, with more purposeful hits in better context to the game than in any of the first five. Hits are a dodgy stat given that they awarded by home team stat crews, but the two teams combined for 42 (LA won, 26-16, in case you care), and it only stood to get crankier as the night went on.

The second period was closer, but it was also more wide open, resulting in goals from Kyle Wellwood and Jason Demers from San Jose and Justin Williams for L.A.

Wellwoods goal came after Joe Thornton retrieved his backhand and returned it to him for an open 18-footer from just inside the low hash at 2:58 that beat the de-sticked Jonathan Quick. Thornton, though, returned the work when he was flagged for a high-sticking double-minor at 11:04, and the Kings eventually turned it into the game-squarer. Williams followed a long rebound of a Jack Johnson drive and found the unguarded half of Antti Niemis net at 13:27.

The Kings were gathering momentum when Demers one-timed a pass from the right side by Pavelski and beat Quick at 16:52, giving the Sharks a 2-1 lead they knew how to hold in the regular season (they were 19-1-2 in games allowing two or fewer goals since January 15). But those Sharks seem like a phenomenon of a thousand years ago; these seem destined to make you chew your nails to the second knuckle.

Worse for them, the Kings were finally hitting their stride after 30 minutes of being owned by the visitors. The Sharks would need a third goal to feel any comfort, and comfort is what they do worst of all.

Of course, they didnt get that before the Kings got their second, 18 seconds into the third period. Douglas Murrays clearing pass was cut off by Ryan Smyth, who then beelined it toward the net just ahead of Boyle, who was trying to collect Murrays clear, in time to follow Jarret Stolls right-angled shot to tie the game.

Dany Heatley then won the game at 8:48 with a nostalgically wicked snap shot off a wobbly Ryane Clowe pass that Brad Richardson couldnt clear, and Trevor Lewis won it back at 11:39 in the dying moments of a Jason Demers interference penalty, which was the second poorest decision of the period by a Shark.

The worst came at 16:37, when Jamie McGinn ran Richardson into the boards with a head shot in the Sharks offensive zone and got hit with a major and a game misconduct, giving the Kings a five-minute penalty and left the Sharks one man shorthanded thereafter. Even for those partisans who thought the punishment was excessive, the intent was clear, the distance from thought to execution was considerable, and the decision was unfathomably poor.

The Sharks killed off the first 3:23 of the penalty despite a couple of close calls, then went off for the start of overtime knowing that if they won this game, they would feel far more lucky than good.

Then again, Its the Sharks. Sounds almost like a sitcom, doesnt it?

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.