Ray Ratto

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.
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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.

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

You don’t think you needed this game to go this way, but you did, and you do.

The Golden State Warriors spat out a 17-point lead and lost, 92-88, in Boston Thursday night, in a game that was taut if not particularly elegant, and in a game that elevated the Celtics to a place that makes them the new heir apparent to the heir apparent.

The Celtics have been a difficult out for the Warriors during the Brad Stevens Era, losing six of nine but only being blown out twice, and Thursday was not one of those nights. The box score will tell you the shooting and rebounding problems, but the Warriors had that lead and didn’t hold it. Or, to be accurate, the Celtics had that deficit and refused to let it destroy them.

Which is exactly the kind of team you, the fully licensed Warrior fan, want to watch play your team in the NBA Finals. You want to see them genuinely challenged, forced to win outside their comfort zone, induced to show their greatness in the highest of high leverage situations.

At least we think that’s what you want. Maybe you prefer blowouts so you can drink and go to the bathroom without care or fear. After all, the Warriors have taught the area the true meaning of front-running by being in front so often.

But the Celtics play a level of defense typically reserved for the San Antonio Spurs, and yes, the Warriors. They have a spiky exoskeleton that the acquisition of Kyrie Irving has actually enhanced, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give them a gifted precocity that fits well with veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and Boston’s overall youth (they are fifth youngest, while Golden State is third-oldest) ought to make them a more difficult conundrum than Cleveland or any other team in either conference.

They are not yet the superior team; that remains to be proven, and betting against the Warriors requires a level of irrational bravery left only for the truly self-destructive.

But they are, as we sit this evening, the team the Warriors will have to work hardest to finish, because on a night when they had the chance to do so, they didn’t. In other words, the fight for a third ring still goes through Oakland, but it looks more and more like a one-stop through Boston.

And as much as you may hate thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly remember, and savor, a Celtics-Warriors final more than another round of Cavs-on-the-half-shell.

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor


Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here 

Draymond Green spoke to a group of students at Harvard Thursday on the subject of leadership, and if you find that incongruous, shame on you.
I mean, who else would you want as a college professor?
Green has led, and been led. He has learned, and he has taught. He has certainly lectured, as any teammate, official and media member will testify. He’d be a hell of a teacher, and the subject almost doesn’t matter.
For one, homework would be different, as in I’d bet there would be no written work. I don’t see Prof. Day-Day poring over essays about the Industrial Revolution, M-theory or pre-Raphaelite art. Not even the history of Basketball-Reference.com.

For two, having tenured faculty audit his classes may find his choice of rhetoric a little strident, as in “What the ---- were you thinking, dude?” is not typically approved instructional methodology.
And three, nobody would get a grade. Green would mark every exam with a “35,” as in his draft position, and besides, the exams would be students arguing with each other over whether that was a foul or a no-call, and who pulled the better face when the call was made. He’d give either an approving nod or give the loser a second technical foul and kick him or her out of class.
But it would be a hell of a class. Not at Harvard, of course, because Green probably would want to teach a school that could better use his brand of wisdom, and Harvard kids already have a healthy lead off third base. He’d want his students to make Harvard students cry, you can just tell.
But wouldn’t he look perfectly Draymond in a cap and gown on graduation day, pulling a bottle out of his sleeve to make the valedictory speeches less painful. “Damn, dude,” you could hear him yell. “Peaking?”