Ratto: Canucks constrict Sharks to win in Game 1


Ratto: Canucks constrict Sharks to win in Game 1


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.

RELATED: Sharks drop Game 1, can't contend with Canucks' comeback

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.

PHT: Third period determines outcome of Game 1

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.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.