Ratto: Sharks win it their way, the hard way


Ratto: Sharks win it their way, the hard way

Ray Ratto

LOS ANGELES -- In the frantic moments between joy and composure, Todd McLellan said it best, and fastest.

Its the Sharks, he said with a rueful laugh. Thats what we do.

That is scare themselves and everyone around them half-dead, and then sometimes to go all the way. Monday they stopped short.
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Joe Thorntons quick spin-and-shoot 2:22 into overtime propelled the Fins to a 4-3 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings, and a second-round date with one of their two most prominent nemeses, either Detroit or Chicago.

In fact, it was a big night for lot of Sharks who had been taking a bit of a lashing this postseason.
There was Thornton, who scored the game-winner by getting in front of defenseman Willie Mitchell and one-timed a shot off a clot in front of the net into a wide open net.

There was Dany Heatley, who had given the Sharks a 3-2 lead with a nasty one-timer off what he called a jump ball of a pass from Ryane Clowe at 8:48.

RATTO: Game 6 notebook

And there was the penalty kill, one of San Joses weakest links, rising to its best work in timing out a five-minute charging penalty to Jamie McGinn at 16:37 for running Brad Richardson that seemed to have doomed the Sharks to a seventh game and all the windpipe problems those brings.

The Kings had scored two of their first three goals on power plays, and McGinns mistake looked like the killer, though McLellan was conciliatory for the moment.

He did what we asked him to do, we wanted him to be aggressive, he said of McGinn. We obviously didnt want the penalty there, but we wanted him to be aggressive.

And they survived that aggression, as badly timed and egregious as it was. Next stop, the second round, where the battle gets exponentially harder.

The first period showed that the Sharks can be re-trained. They were smarter in their own end, quicker out of their own end, better at getting into the Kings passing lanes, used all four lines more than they had in the first five games, and put consistent pressure on the Los Angeles defense.

And . . . they got no goals. Again.

This time, they put 16 shots on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, making it 85 in the six first periods so far, with only a Dany Heatley score in Game 1 to show for all that hyperactivity. In fact, when you throw in blocked shots and missed shots, they threw 30 in Quicks direction, a sign of puck ownership that they did far well efficaciously in game 4.

But in terms of following instructions and resembling the team that raced through the second half of the regular season, they did fine. There is, after all, no other way for them to advance, and one got the feeling that the only way they could fail was to deviate from their first period performance.

Joe Pavelskis line was again the most active, and Pavelski the most singularly active, getting off five shots, most of them from close enough and with sufficient consequence to pass as good chances.

The Kings, on the other hand, got only one shot from its pest line of Brad Richardson, Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds, as the Sharks did a much more thorough job of playing in all three zones.

It was also a more physical game than any of the others, with more purposeful hits in better context to the game than in any of the first five. Hits are a dodgy stat given that they awarded by home team stat crews, but the two teams combined for 42 (LA won, 26-16, in case you care), and it only stood to get crankier as the night went on.

The second period was closer, but it was also more wide open, resulting in goals from Kyle Wellwood and Jason Demers from San Jose and Justin Williams for L.A.

Wellwoods goal came after Joe Thornton retrieved his backhand and returned it to him for an open 18-footer from just inside the low hash at 2:58 that beat the de-sticked Jonathan Quick. Thornton, though, returned the work when he was flagged for a high-sticking double-minor at 11:04, and the Kings eventually turned it into the game-squarer. Williams followed a long rebound of a Jack Johnson drive and found the unguarded half of Antti Niemis net at 13:27.

The Kings were gathering momentum when Demers one-timed a pass from the right side by Pavelski and beat Quick at 16:52, giving the Sharks a 2-1 lead they knew how to hold in the regular season (they were 19-1-2 in games allowing two or fewer goals since January 15). But those Sharks seem like a phenomenon of a thousand years ago; these seem destined to make you chew your nails to the second knuckle.

Worse for them, the Kings were finally hitting their stride after 30 minutes of being owned by the visitors. The Sharks would need a third goal to feel any comfort, and comfort is what they do worst of all.

Of course, they didnt get that before the Kings got their second, 18 seconds into the third period. Douglas Murrays clearing pass was cut off by Ryan Smyth, who then beelined it toward the net just ahead of Boyle, who was trying to collect Murrays clear, in time to follow Jarret Stolls right-angled shot to tie the game.

Dany Heatley then won the game at 8:48 with a nostalgically wicked snap shot off a wobbly Ryane Clowe pass that Brad Richardson couldnt clear, and Trevor Lewis won it back at 11:39 in the dying moments of a Jason Demers interference penalty, which was the second poorest decision of the period by a Shark.

The worst came at 16:37, when Jamie McGinn ran Richardson into the boards with a head shot in the Sharks offensive zone and got hit with a major and a game misconduct, giving the Kings a five-minute penalty and left the Sharks one man shorthanded thereafter. Even for those partisans who thought the punishment was excessive, the intent was clear, the distance from thought to execution was considerable, and the decision was unfathomably poor.

The Sharks killed off the first 3:23 of the penalty despite a couple of close calls, then went off for the start of overtime knowing that if they won this game, they would feel far more lucky than good.

Then again, Its the Sharks. Sounds almost like a sitcom, doesnt it?

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.