SAN JOSE, Calif.
-- The Sharks will tell you that everything is different this time around, other than the teal sweaters, the outstanding regular season and their eternally optimistic yet angst-ridden fans.
They will point out that half the roster was turned over from a season ago. They take pride in their newfound grittiness. They insist the past is irrelevant.
But one thing was all too familiar Wednesday night at HP Pavilion: the outcome of their playoff opener.
This time around, seeded first in the Western Conference, the Sharks fell 2-1 to a frisky young Avalanche team, losing on a fluke goal in the final minute of the third period. Last year, when they won the President's Trophy, the Sharks dropped their first two first-round games at home to the Ducks and never recovered.
Doesn't matter, the Sharks insisted after their latest disquieting playoff moment.
"If you're thinking about that," left wing Ryane Clowe
said, referring to past disappointments, "you're in the wrong mental stage."
Center Patrick Marleau
added, "It's a different playoff series, a different year. Half the team is different. We don't even think about that."
The Sharks preferred to focus not on the past but on what they didn't do in Game 1 against the Avalanche. And most of what they didn't do was on display in the second period, when the Sharks were outshot 12-3 and allowed the series-opening goal, a point shot through a screen on the power play by Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles
Asked what credit the Avalanche deserved for slowing his team down in the second period, Sharks coach Todd McLellan
said, "I thought it was more us. We didn't execute very well. Our passing was a little off. As a result, it slowed our game down. They did a good job clogging up the neutral zone. If we eliminate those 20 minutes and play more like we did in the first and third periods, we'll have a better chance to be successful."
The Sharks did do a number of things well. They won 55 percent of the faceoffs, continuing to dominate in a statistical category they led the NHL in during the regular season. Another positive sign for them was the play of Evgeni Nabokov
, who made 28 saves and could not be faulted on either Avalanche goal.
But offensively, the Sharks were quiet for much of the night, though it seemed early it would be otherwise.
When the Avalanche's Chris Stewart
-- who later scored the winning goal -- was sent off 28 seconds into the game on a hooking call, the Sharks' power play looked sharp, producing six shots at goalie Craig Anderson
during the two-minute advantage. Dany Heatley
had the best chance, off a faceoff, but couldn't get the puck past Anderson, who made 25 saves in the game.
After the power play, the Sharks went into hibernation, managing only nine shots in the next 37 minutes. And when the Sharks fell behind on Liles' goal 12:38 into the second period, a sellout crowd of 17,562 that included rock legend Neil Young went from electric to unplugged.
"You want to get more chances," said Sharks scoring leader Joe Thornton
, who had five shots on goal. "That's the name of the game."
Sharks fans remained quiet until 7:59 of the third period, when Clowe outraced Liles to a loose puck behind the Avalanche net, carried the puck to the boards by the right faceoff circle and flipped a shot at the net that eluded Anderson, who was screened by the Sharks' Joe Pavelski
It was precisely the type of play the Sharks need more of, Clowe said.
"We're not getting enough pucks to the net," Clowe said. "We've got to get pucks there quicker and from different angles."
The Sharks never came close to taking the lead after Clowe tied the score.
And with 49.3 seconds left, Stewart flipped a sharp-angle shot toward the net from the right boards. Sharks captain Rob Blake
was tied up in front with the Avalanche's T.J. Galiardi
, and Stewart's shot ricocheted off Blake's left skate and past Nabokov. It was a stunning end to the first game in what the Sharks hope will be a vastly different spring from the ones they have endured in recent years.
The next game is Friday night, and the Sharks know they have to be better. But they also know they can't dwell on what happened Wednesday.
"If you lose 7-1 or 2-1, what's the difference?" Nabokov said. "It's 1-0 in the series."
Marleau added, "When you lose a game, obviously you're disappointed. You want to change things. You have to have a short memory and learn from your mistakes."