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Avalanche can increase pressure on Sharks, go up 2-0

by Brian Hunter
(Colorado leads best-of-seven series, 1-0)
Big story:
Perhaps no team in these Stanley Cup Playoffs needed to get off to a fast start more than San Jose -- anything less would mean a rehashing of all their past postseason failures. Well, the Sharks have been hearing about them since dropping Game 1 to the eight-seeded Avalanche 2-1 on Wednesday, and while the players insist there's no panic in the dressing room, that might not remain the case if they don't even the series Friday.

Team scope:

Avalanche: Built heavily around young talent and players getting their first taste of NHL playoff hockey, Colorado looked anything but intimidated by the atmosphere at the Shark Tank in the series opener. They got on the board first, thanks to a power-play goal by John-Michael Liles, and just when it seemed the game was headed for overtime, Chris Stewart threw the puck at the net and it deflected in off the skate of Sharks defenseman Rob Blake with 49.3 seconds remaining, giving the Avalanche the victory.

Regardless of what happens Friday, they will head back to Colorado having stolen home-ice advantage in the series. But coach Joe Sacco doesn't want to see anyone take his foot off the gas pedal now and accept a split.

"We're not looking at that," he told the Denver Post on Thursday. "Obviously, Game 1 is over now, it's a new game tomorrow night, and I've said all along it's one game at a time and focus in on that. I'm sure that the guys will be ready to play tomorrow. We're not looking at a split right now. We obviously want to go back home 2-0. San Jose's going to try to say differently."
While a bad bounce resulted in the winning goal in Game 1, coach Todd McLellan thought San Jose ultimately hurt itself with its play in the second period. The Sharks were outshot 12-3 and gave up the first goal by Liles after Blake took a hooking penalty. They would even things up in the third when Ryane Clowe scored, but were never able to climb into the lead.

"If we could eliminate that 20 minutes and play the way we did in the first and the third, it would have given ourselves more of an opportunity to be successful," McLellan said. "We talked about overcoming and the need to overcome. We knew they were going to be tough. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy or a simple series. They're a very good team and they work very hard. Our backs aren't up against the wall. We have to play a little bit better, and we look forward to that on Friday."
Who's hot:
Paul Stastny set up both goals in Colorado's win after finishing up the regular season with two goals and four assists in six games. … San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov could hardly be blamed for his team's defeat, stopping 28 of 30 shots. He won his final three regular-season starts, allowing two goals or less each time.
Injury report: Peter Mueller, who went on a tear after the Avalanche acquired him from the Coyotes at the trade deadline but hasn't played since suffering a concussion in an April 4 game against the Sharks, has been going through light, off-ice workouts back in Denver but hasn't started skating yet. He remains out indefinitely.
Stat pack:
Colorado defenseman Kyle Quincey led the team with five shots while logging a team-high 22:50 of ice time Wednesday. … San Jose center Joe Thornton won 11 of 18 faceoffs in Game 1, though the one he lost to Stastny with 1:17 left in the third ended up leading to Stewart's winning goal.
Puck drop: With the way the Avalanche finished the regular season, struggling to hang on to the final Western Conference playoff spot, it's easy to forget they led the Northwest Division for a significant amount of time and were one of the League's better success stories. If the Sharks needed any reminder, Game 1 should have served as just that, and now it's time to see if the favorites can respond.

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