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Sharks still waiting for top line to break through

Wednesday, 04.21.2010 / 7:11 PM / News

Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley have 103 regular season goals, three gold medals and plenty of other accolades accumulated already this season.

The one thing the high-scoring trio is missing so far is a playoff goal. The Sharks' top line has played nothing like that in the first four games of their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

"We need them to get on the scoreboard," coach Todd McLellan said Wednesday. "We can talk about how they're playing and the chances they're creating and their contributions at the other end of the rink, which are all very important. They're doing a pretty good job in those areas. But ultimately they have to find a way to get on the scoreboard, particularly on the power play. It will come."

After scoring 40 percent of the team's goals in the regular season, the three have no goals and four assists in the series, and are a combined minus-7. But despite all that the top-seeded Sharks still find themselves tied at two games apiece with Colorado heading into Thursday night's Game 5 in San Jose.

The biggest reason for that is the play of Joe Pavelski's second line. Pavelski scored the overtime game-winner in Game 4 in Denver for the Sharks on Tuesday night.

Pavelski also scored the tying goal in the closing minute of Game 2, setting the stage for Devin Setoguchi's overtime winner. Ryane Clowe also has a goal and four assists. The trio has five goals and seven assists.

"We've just been prepared to work," Pavelski said. "We have more than enough skill on the line so when we give the effort, the skill usually comes out and takes over."

The three had their troubles in last year's playoffs when San Jose's first-round loss to Anaheim was blamed on a lack of secondary scoring. Pavelski failed to score at all in the six playoff games, while Setoguchi and Clowe had a goal apiece.

The loss after posting the top record in the NHL in the regular season hit Pavelski particularly hard.

"Last year was definitely tough," he said. "If our line would have scored a few more goals it would have changed the series around a little bit. That's definitely something we wanted to add to the team and chip in for the playoffs this year."

Now the key is getting the top line playing the way they did for most of the regular season. The three formed one of the top lines in the entire league and played together to help Canada win the gold medal at the Olympics.

They have not played exclusively together the past two games. Heatley missed Game 3 with an undisclosed injury and didn't look like himself in Game 4. McLellan juggled his lines a bit that game, with Thornton, Marleau and Heatley being split up at times.

The Sharks feel it's only a matter of time until the line breaks through in the playoffs.

"They have done it all year," captain Rob Blake said. "We don't expect any different from them."

The Avalanche are also looking for more scoring from some of their big guns. The most notable struggles have come from rookie Matt Duchene and T.J. Galiardi, who have both yet to score goals in the series.

With Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk sidelined with injuries and not making the trip to San Jose, the Avalanche need Duchene to step up as much as the Sharks need some of their big guns.

"You're always looking for your top line players to produce at this time of the year," coach Joe Sacco said. "Those guys have been very productive for us all season long. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't. Matt Duchene certainly, got to try to find a way to ... it's tight checking out there. Matty has to find a way to fight through it. Just simplify his game. If he can simplify it a little more might make it easy on him."

The past three games have gone to overtime after the Avalanche scored the game-winner with 50 seconds left in regulation in the opener. Neither team has led by more than a goal in what has been a draining series both physically and mentally so far.

"It takes a little bit of a toll on the body," forward Brandon Yip said before leaving Colorado. "I'm sure everyone's sore. It's been a pretty physical series. We got some rest today."

The Sharks have only led for 22:16 in the entire series, all coming after Dan Boyle's first-period goal Tuesday. The only other leads San Jose has held came after the two overtime game-winners.

But the Sharks have controlled the play for much of the series, outshooting Colorado 174-103 through four games. The Avalanche managed to pull out two wins, getting helped by a puck that bounced in off Blake's skate for the game-winner in Game 1 and a pass by Boyle that deflected off Ryan O'Reilly's stick and past Evgeni Nabokov in overtime in Game 3.

"It's 2-2 and we're going to San Jose and we've won there before. We know we can play there," forward Paul Stastny said. "If you asked us at the beginning of the season, one-eight seed, 2-2, going into Game 5, it's a good position to be in."

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this story.

Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic