Ratto: Three keys for Sharks-Vancouver Game 1

May 15, 2011, 3:53 pm
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- With the Stanley Cup Western Conference Final only hours away, here are some things you havent thought of -- mostly because nobody in their right mind would.

1. The Better Backup Goaltender
Both Antero Niittymaki and Cory Schneider have regained the rust they accumulated down the stretch, after being quite busy in the first round. Schneider got into three games in the Chicago series while Roberto Luongo, but didnt materially change any of them because Vancouver lost all three. Niittymaki, on the other hand, bailed Antti Niemi out twice against Los Angeles, and had better numbers doing so.
The Edge: Niittymaki, because he wears a jauntier ball cap on the bench.

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2. The Better Agitator
Not even close. Ben Eager can be a bit of a freight train when he gets ice time for San Jose, but Raffi Torres is a more persistent pest, and one that a few Sharks remember from the way he scraped them five years ago when Torres with Edmonton. Not really a fair fight, really, as Eager hasnt played much, while Torres gets regular shifts. In addition, Maxim Lapierre gives the Canucks depth in annoyance numbers, for maximum coverage and irritancy.
The Edge: Torres, for style and persistence. Plus a maniacal look of incipient menace the girls all love.

3. The Better Faceoff Cheat
This can be taken one of two ways. Are you a good faceoff cheat because you dont get caught, or because you always get caught. Vancouver only has three consistent draw-takers, Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin and Lapierre. Of the three, Sedin is most likely to get the arm, while Kesler seems to take every draw without issue. For the Sharks, Joe Thornton is a linesmans favorite for both actual and perceived jumpiness, an thats a problem, as Thornton has won more than 60 percent of his faceoffs in the postseason, behind only Bostons Patrice Bergeron.
The Edge: Thornton, who gets caught a lot but doesnt seem to mind being chastised repeatedly by men in unfashionable stripes.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.