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.

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

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Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
 
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
 
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
 
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
 
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
 
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
 
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
 
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
 
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
 
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
 
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
 
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.