Ranking the Stanley Cup playoff series

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Ranking the Stanley Cup playoff series

We hate to break it to you this way, but its better if you hear from someone you . . . well, dont like very much.

The Sharks-Blues series is not considered a potential classic of the genre. In fact, the word ugly gets bandied about a lot.

As in, This series is going to be as ugly as the regular season series. Not the results, necessarily, although seven-seeds traditionally have difficult times handling twos.

But the games? They wont be a lot of fun. Theyll be short on scoring chances, skating room or traditional up-tempo give-and-take.

In short, you cant say you havent been warned. But if it helps at all, even if your ardor for the local Selachimorpha does not allow you to believe your favorite team can play ugly hockey, the rest of the series arent that much better.

In fact, lets rank them in order of fun per minute:

NASHVILLE-DETROIT
The Wings are always elegant viewing, if only because Pavel Datsyuk may very well be the most underrated great player ever. But having Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Valteri Filppula and a well-established style of play makes the Wings good entertainment. Against that, Nashville brings two extraordinary defensemen in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the best goalie in the game in Pekka Rinne, and the resurgent if mercenary Alexander Radulov. The series with the best chance of going seven games, too.

NEW YORK RANGERS-OTTAWA
One-eight matches dont often stand up well, but Ottawa gives the Rangers more than enough trouble and Henrik Lundqvist is believed to be nursing a nagging injury. John Tortorella never met an argument he couldnt make louder or more profane, and Ottawa hockey fans are plain nuts.

PITTSBURGH-PHILADELPHIA
Most folks would rank this higher, maybe even first, but the Penguins when fully healthy are a dramatically better team. Plus, Flyer goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is due for one of his everyones-paying-attention-to-me walkabouts. This will be an aggressively played but brief series.

VANCOUVER-LOS ANGELES
If Jonathan Quick is brilliant, the Canucks can get as tight-windpiped as any team, and in that town, a tight windpipe is a sign to make it tighter. Plus, there are many amusements to be found in watching coaches Darryl Sutter and Alain Vigneault screwing with each others heads.

BOSTON-WASHINGTON
This is only good if Alexander Ovechkin can become the happy-time Fizzies party he used to be. The Bruins finished strong, goaliepolitical naf Tim Thomas is playing close to his playoff level of a year ago, and the Bruins are defending champions. But the Caps have been mediocre to frustrating even after the coaching change to Dale Hunter, so getting your hopes up here seems counterproductive.

PHOENIX-CHICAGO
The Blackhawks get Jonathan Toews back, and their goaltending problems will make the Coyotes seem less offensively-challenged. It could be a sleeper series for entertainment. It could also stink to high heaven if the Hawks give in to Phoenix penchant for grinding the game into dust.

ST. LOUIS-SAN JOSE
Logan CoutureJoe PavelskiJoe Thornton and David BackesPatrick BerglundAlex Steen had better be lots of fun, if only to negate the Ken Hitchcock way of doing things. Thats all were saying.

FLORIDA-NEW JERSEY
Oh God.

You are of course entitled to judge the series in any order you wish. Its just that this is the correct one until more data presents itself.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.