One win isn't enough

Updated: April 30, 2004, 2:22 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

DENVER -- Normally, overtimes tend not to work to the benefit of the team that played better in regulation. In fact, this seemingly routine disregard for all the facts in evidence makes overtime one of the best things about hockey.

Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche won Game 4 in overtime. But it's still good to be a Shark.
Well, that, and that 11th beer.

But you have to hand it to those zany Colorado Avalanche -- they spent a long time Wednesday night establishing what was what and who was who to the San Jose Sharks, and they'd have had a hell of a time explaining to their families and accountants how they lost their last game of the year.

So, they didn't.

Joe Sakic's goal five minutes and change into extra time not only kept the Avs in the postseason, albeit still by their cuticles, it saved them the triple agonies of a city's scorn (Denver does not do forgiveness well even in the best of times), a potentially long lockout and a summer knowing that the one time they really took it to the Sharks, the Sharks didn't take it away from them in the end.

Of course, there is no telling what this all means, if anything. That's why context means so little. Colorado did play the plainly superior game Wednesday, but still won only 1-0. With style points, 8-1, but that was Don Van Massenhoven in the striped shirt, not Marie LaGougne, the woman who bartered her votes at the Olympic ice dancing event like it was being decided on eBay.

In other words, it's one. One goal, one win. And by even the most generous math, it is still better to be the Sharks this day than the Avalanche.

Still, before Game 5, some questions need a good answering.

Does this signal a sudden shift in momentum? Maybe, but momentum in the Stanley Cup playoffs is only slightly more useful than an icemaker on the back of a chipper-shredder. You're always one bad goal away from hell, or watching your kids play Little League.

Will the Sharks be shaken by this turn of events?

Yes, if they lose the next three games. And maybe if they lose the next two. Otherwise, no.

Have the Avs finally solved the 50,000-piece one-color puzzle that is Evgeni Nabokov?

Probably not. In a postseason with so little in the way of proven goaltending, Nabokov and Nikolai Khabibulin remain the class of the field.

Will the Sharks' slavishly loyal and occasionally nondiscriminating fans give their heroes the emotional boost they need in Game 5?

No, but it's not as though the Avs benefited in any meaningful way from their two games at the Pepsi Center. They had the worst home record of any playoff team, a fact that can be laid solely and specifically at the licensed torturers who play the stupefyingly lame techno-pop medleys during stoppages.

How does this result effect the Calgary-Detroit series? It doesn't, really.

But Wednesday's game did tell us one thing -- there is nothing like the power of abject desperation in the hands of a team good enough to do something about it.

This is true in any sport. Talent is always better than a corneal abrasion, yes, but if you combine talent with the imminent end of the season and a sense of utter shame and ridicule, you will get some nice work in the end.

That, more than anything, is what Wednesday told us. The Avs, good, desperate, and good and desperate, finally stood up and made themselves seen, felt and heard. Defenseman Adam Foote tried to explain that the Avs could have won Game 2, and should have won Game 3, but that and $2.3 million can buy you a fixer-upper five miles north of the San Jose airport.

In fact, San Jose had controlled this series until Wednesday, stripping the Avs of a decade of well-earned pedigree and making them downright cranky, as evidenced by general manager Pierre Lacroix's spirited dressing-down of one respected analyst for his comments on radio that the Avalanche were riddled with strife.

In fact, what they were riddled with was dread that their summer was coming on, sooner, harder and meaner than they'd hoped. So they did the only thing they could do under the circumstances -- not croak.

Saturday, of course, is a different deal, in part because this is the most home-ice-dependent postseason in years. The dark sweaters (which used to be white ones on the occasion) were 40-21 going into Thursday's games, the most overwhelming home-ice advantage since the playoffs went to a four-round, all-best-of-seven format.

But the Avalanche now have reason to believe that they are not yet dead, because as any idiot can plainly see, they aren't.

What they do with that knowledge remains to be seen.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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