- Ray Ratto
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CALGARY, Alberta -- The last time a team with a chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals gave away its home-ice advantage so profoundly was 1945, when the Detroit Red Wings spotted the Boston Bruins two free ones before getting down to business.
This was the same year that the German army won its first two games on the road (well, Czechoslovakia and Poland) and ended up losing its series with the rest of the planet.
We can deduce from this that '45 was a hell of a tough year.
Which brings us, laughably enough, to the plight of the San Jose Sharks, heading to Calgary after losing a game they played well enough to win, and then being dope-clubbed in a game they lost right at the "We stand on guard for thee" coda of the Canadian national anthem.
The Sharks are, by any reasonable analysis, all but done. And they have the following people to thank for it:
It is never a good idea to follow an overtime gut-wrencher with a great steaming pudding of a game, because doubt starts to creep into one's brain, as though the other team Knows What You're Doing While You're Still Thinking About It.
This is particularly worrisome when the other team is coached by the old coach, in this case the gloriously enigmatic Darryl Sutter, because one starts to suspect that he learned about your weaknesses while trying to hide them on your behalf, and is now hell-bent to expose them to the world.
This cynical viewpoint is, in fact, exactly what the Flames have on their side going into Game 3, because the most notable difference between Games 1 and 2 was the way the Flames went after San Jose's game-changers, i.e., Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo.
They gave them as much body work as they could stand and then some, taking away the room they had grown accustomed to having in the first 12 games of the postseason. And without room, the Sharks' much advertised speed (which in honesty is no better than Calgary's anyway) is mooted, not to mention muted, not to mention useless.
It may be early to say the Calgary goalie has crawled inside the Sharks' heads the way he did Vancouver's and Detroit's, but there were a few signs of tortured teal souls in Game 2 as the Sharks tried to work him without putting many shots (18) on net. They missed a few open nets, true, but part of that was rushing shots because they suspected he would materialize out of the seventh dimension and hose them at the last nanosecond.
This is what hockey experts call a real headache, because if you can't believe your own lying eyes when they show you an open net, you end up talking to yourself, or worse, talk radio hosts.
The Sharks' goalie has not been bad, mind you. The first goal Tuesday was a thing of Jeannette Lee World Series Of Billiards beauty, Marcus Nilson banking a shot off both San Jose defensemen, Scott Hannan and Jason Marshall, before getting it past Nabokov.
But the point here is that Nabokov was well-nigh impregnable before the Flames' series, making some people (among others, the gent who shaves your author) think he was about to break out of really good and into great.
He hasn't been, and now he is facing the same questions David Aebischer heard after the Sharks beat Colorado. Aebischer did his part and then some, but now he's standing in a bunker on 11 wishing he'd put more beer in the cart at the turn.
Nabokov must now be superhuman just to give the Sharks reason to re-believe, and that's like asking your kids to clean their rooms out of simple Christian charity. You can ask, but you'll feel like a jerk squared when you find out they spent the day watching "Invader Zim" instead.
This was a bad time to come down with one of those highly contagious upper-body injuries, what with San Jose's thin defense corps. Getting better, and sort of now-ish, would seem to be a really good idea for someone as important as McLaren. Oh, and Gary Bettman has ordered that the teams come up with a new lie for the finals. "Upper-body injuries," my lower body.
The Sharks knew they were going to the finals. They knew it, and they knew everyone else knew it for them. Call it the arrogance of the two-seed playing the six, or the experience of owning the months of November through April. But while they knew the Flames wouldn't roll over, they never thought they'd roll over onto the Sharks while wearing barbed-wire body suits.
So now they've been edged, and then humiliated, and then stupefied. Now they have to slap themselves back into consciousness, and believe in their skills in an entirely different way -- the way Butch and Sundance thought they could outgun the Bolivian Army.
Yes, yes, we know how that ended up. But what other choice do the Sharks have? A negotiated settlement? A do-over? Sabotage?
Hard to tell, really. The answer to whether they are going to be the Wings or the Germans lies within themselves.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.