Ratto: Only Sharks can grant Wings power to win


Ratto: Only Sharks can grant Wings power to win

May 5, 2011


Ray Ratto

The San Jose Sharks are always on the verge of scaring the hell out of their fans. Its what makes them, them.Even when they have a series by the delicates, as they do this one against the Detroit Red Wings, theres always something. Like the 7-1 Red Wings win in Game 4 a year ago that prevented the Sharks from closing out their series in four games.
But it is a false panic this time; the Wings have only the benefit of desperation to fuel their further efforts. Even if they are still the prideful team that went to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, and have been the sports version of Manchester United for the past decade and a half, this cycle is coming to a slow close, and whether it happens Friday in Joe Louis Arena or Sunday at Le Pavillion du HP matters not.RELATED: Sharks-Wings Round 2 schedule
Only if the Sharks decide to let them back into this series do they find new life; such has been the subtle but telling difference between the two teams.Joe Thornton is the best Joe Thornton he has been since coming west from Boston in Doug Wilsons first distressed items raid; Hes not Offensive Jumbo any more, hes Complete Jumbo now, according to Todd McLellan.Goaltender Antti Niemi has silenced through pistol-whipping the legions who demanded that he become Antero Niittymaki.The cheeky Devin Setoguchi, who so wants to be a star on par with the Big Four (Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle) and The Biggish Three (Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture), is on the verge of joining the second group. Hes still growing up in the hockey world, McLellan said. Hes had very good parts of seasons where hes on a top of the world, and others where hes struggled.RATTO: Setoguchi helps Sharks cheat the reaper
And then there are the slightly under-the-radar types who have greased the tank treads just as well as if they had been the big-money boys. Kyle Wellwood has benefited from, and provided benefit for, the Pavelski line (with the undersung Torrey Mitchell) by being the guy who, once he acquires the puck, never seems to lose it until he is prepared to do so. His time in Toronto and Vancouver and Russia is now barely visible in his rear-view mirror, and if he can maintain his present fitness through the summer, he will become an indispensable part of the nucleus. Ian White is perhaps the best third-pair defenseman left in the postseason, the skill that meshes with Niclas Wallins more rudimentary defensive work and gives San Jose depth in a place where it has traditionally had none. Wallin. See above, with the added benefit of delivering the blocked shots element that has been missing in the San Jose fabric through most of the decade. Jason Demers has grown into the intrepid offensive defenseman that allows Marc-Edouard Vlasic to be the defense-first guy he has always wanted to be. Vlasic has the gift to be a force in attack, but seems far more comfortable in his own end initiating rather than joining rushes, and Demers has a bit of the hit-on-17 about his game.We know all these things because Todd McLellan has gone longer without tweaking his top three lines than he ever has before. He has hit on the combinations that make the most sense and do the most damage, and for someone who is as tinker-happy as he is, the stability on the top three lines is both shocking and ingenious. A coach who can go away from his instincts is to be prized, and McLellan is showing the combinations of flexibility and spine that he either learned from Mike Babcock or stole from him outright.
And yet, for all that, the Sharks may still lose Game 4, because they are also whom we always thought they were a team that historically handles bounty the way most teams handle adversity. With butter-coated oven mitts.
They still have not proven that they can be the bullies of the conference their standings positions suggest they ought to be. They still turn out the biggest howlers at the least contextually sensical times. They still believe they are who they once were, the guys who can run with anyone.
But this series has shown that they are better when they are the guys who can prevent you from running. They dont neutral ice trap or do the actuarial grind-the-game-down things that made New Jersey or elevated Tampa Bay. But they use their size more effectively than they ever have before, because they have stopped trying to be all teams for all people.
They are this team, and they get into trouble only when they forget who they are and what they do.
And yet, for all that as well, they may still lose Game 4 because the Red Wings arent dead yet. The three San Jose wins have not been overwhelming, though the better team has won Games 1 and 2. The Wings have not won many of the important battles, but they have lost by one, one and one goal.
But despite McLellans entreaties that the Sharks should forget about last years series victory over Detroit, this series is last years, almost to a T. I think its natural to reflect upon it a little, Mitchell said. The similarities are all over it. Game 4, though . . . (Johan) Franzen got that hat trick in the first period, they were up like what, 5-0? It was almost like we all said, Okay, lets get to Game 5.
For further edification, see: http:tinyurl.com655n6b2
That, though, is in the hands of the gods, or Eric Nesterenko, whichever comes first. There is Friday night, and the Sharks in position to either finish the unfathomable deed or string out the proceedings awhile longer. Indeed, they might become the first team to win successive series against the same team with the same order of victories since Montreal swept St. Louis in back-to-back Finals in 1968 and 1969.
The Red Wings do not have the power to win this series, unless the Sharks grant it to them. But they do have the power to discomfit the Sharks into thinking about who they are instead of simply being who they are. In sum, this series is over, and it isnt.

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.