Ratto: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly

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Ratto: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly

May 24, 2011RATTO ARCHIVE
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Ray Ratto
CSNCalifornia.comVANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It is the story that keeps telling itself -- the San Jose Sharks, playing their best game a game or two too late.

So it goes, again. Having wedged their backs into the soft plaster behind them, they played one of their finest games in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, but for a play here, a bounce there, a call somewhere else, they still flew home Tuesday night wearing a 3-2 double overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Indeed, the winning goal by Kevin Bieksa tells you everything you need to know about the evils of waiting until the last minute to get your ducks aligned. You never know when fate will jam a finger in your eye.
RELATED: Sharks fall short, Canucks claim series with 2OT triumph

Bieksa drove a puck to the front of the net that was deflected to the wall and back to fellow defenseman Alexander Edler, who tried to dump the puck behind the net. The puck, though, struck a stanchion and rebounded back to Bieksa at the O in Stanley Cup Playoffs logo inside the blue line, and his shot knuckled past a startled Antti Niemi at 10:18 of the overtime.

I didn't see it at all until the last two or three meters, Niemi said, explaining how he followed the players as they headed behind the net where Edlers pass was headed. It was one of the weirdest goals I've ever given up, sure. It took a bounce, and I lost it, and I never saw it until right at the end when it was past me. I just saw it going by.

And with it, another Miss Congeniality medal for the team that is becoming known for them.

While it is still too early to work at the postmortems and the is-the-window-closing arguments, Logan Couture put it succinctly.

It sucks, it really does, he said. Maybe we did deserve better. We did play good in a couple of games in this series, but it doesnt matter. Theyre going on, and were not, and that sucks.

The problem, of course, is that a couple of games are not five, and it took at least that many for the Sharks to beat the Canucks. Yes, the job was made more difficult by Joe Thorntons separated shoulder, and Ryane Clowes chronic shoulder problem, and a lot of other nagging annoyances that are the hallmark of a team that plays 107 hockey games in seven months.

But as it was a year ago, the superior team won, the right result was achieved. San Jose could have changed it, because no fate in this game is pre-ordained, but they left too much to the whims of an elimination game, and will reflect on being fourth best for the second time in succession.

I thought they competed extremely hard, head coach Todd McLellan said. I'll tell them (when we get back) I thought they were a better team than we were in the series. We started to show it in the end of the series, but ...
RELATED: Game 5 notes: Sharks look to uncertain offseason

But thats too late, again. And the recriminations of another missed opportunity can begin on Thursday, when the Sharks have scheduled their season autopsy.

Tuesdays game was San Joses to win despite Thorntons injury, which allowed him to play 32 minutes but not to materially affect the game in any dramatic way. San Jose played hard and with purpose most of the evening, and for the first time in the series could say they were foiled by a bit of bad luck, as in:

The Bieksa pinball goal.

An erroneous icing call on Dan Boyle with 29 seconds left, when his puck clearance hit Daniel Sedins shoulder, which should have negated the icing call that brought the puck back into the zone for a faceoff which led to Ryan Keslers tying goal 13 seconds from the end of regulation.

Then again, the Canucks were victimized a bit on Patrick Marleaus game-tying power play goal at 9:57 of the second. Bieksa was sent to the box for high-sticking instead of Mason Raymond, the actual miscreant, and as a result Keith Ballard, a much less accomplished defenseman, and not Bieksa was on the ice when Marleau scored.

But this isnt about referees or cruel stanchions or injuries or anything else. Ultimately, the Sharks season ended before they thought it should have because they didnt get consistent work game in and game out even though they knew it was the only thing keeping them from glory.

And maybe even if they had that, Vancouver still would have won. The Canucks are smart, fast, deep, chippy when needed, brilliant puck-controllers and an all-around tough out under any circumstances.

But the right team won gets hollow after awhile, and McLellan made sure he had a few more swings to take before he left the podium for the spring and summer.

BRAZIL: 20 thoughts from the Sharks' playoff run

First of all, we're going to get healthy, he said, referring specifically to Thornton and Clowe but with others on a long list of the impaired. We're going to rest over the summer, we're going to get our butts back to training camp where we're going to work ourselves right back to this spot again, and we'll make good on it next time.

We've learned a lot of lessons along the way. We've grown as a team. In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason why we can't be an elite team again next year, as we were the last three, four, five years. We expect to be there. Our task ahead of us is to get our asses back here in the conference finals and make good on it.

Theyll need to be more consistently Game 5-ish to do so, though. They werent unlucky as much as they were inefficient, and inadequately iron-minded. It is a lesson that will have to be driven into them even harder if, as McLellan says, they are to get our asses back here and make good on it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.

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

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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.