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Colorado Avalanche vs. San Jose Sharks @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Sharks lead 1-0.

TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT.

At least for one game, the San Jose Sharks looked like the team loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.

Following a dominant performance in the opener of their semifinal series against the favored Colorado Avalanche, the Sharks will try to maintain that momentum in Game 2 at HP Pavilion.

Though San Jose is the second seed in the Western Conference and finished the regular season with four more points than fourth-seeded Colorado, few have given the Sharks much of a chance to knock off the talent-laden Avalanche.

Judging by San Jose's performance in Game 1, those critics may want to rethink their position.

Patrick Marleau recorded his second hat trick of the playoffs and the Sharks outclassed the Avalanche in every area, coasting to a 5-2 victory Thursday.

Vincent Damphousse and Scott Hannan also scored and Niko Dimitrakos set up three goals for San Jose, which jumped to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period and used its speed, depth and discipline to frustrate Colorado, a perennial Stanley Cup contender with numerous marquee players.

"You want to work hard, and if the points come, great," said Marleau, the NHL playoff leader with six goals. "But the most important thing is the team's winning. We try to come out of the gate pretty hard and get our game going. We used our speed to our advantage, get that extra step out there."

Fast starts have become common for San Jose, which outscored opponents 79-44 in the first period during the regular season.

While they were happy to win the opener, the Sharks know winning one game means little. San Jose beat Colorado 6-3 in the first game of the conference semifinals in 2002, but the Avalanche rebounded with an 8-2 victory in Game 2 and won that series in seven games.

"It's just one game," Damphousse said. "We showed we can play with them. That's great for our confidence. But they're a great team. I expect them to come back strong on Saturday."

Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov faced very few difficult scoring chances, while Colorado's David Aebischer had his worst game of the playoffs, allowing five goals on 17 shots before he was replaced by Tommy Salo with 6:47 left in the second period.

Goaltending was the biggest question for the Avalanche heading into the postseason, but Aebischer was very good in the quarterfinals victory over Dallas, stopping 146 of 156 shots while outplaying Marty Turco.

"The good thing about the playoffs, it's just one game," Aebischer said. "You lose 1-0 or 5-2, it doesn't matter. You start 0-0 next game. They played better than us everywhere."

Colorado coach Tony Granato, who played for the Sharks from 1996-2001, defended his goalie.

"We took him out because we needed a momentum change," Granato said. "They made good shots. It's like any other game that David lets goals in. He's going to be disappointed, thinking he should have stopped some of them. He'll bounce back. He'll have a great game on Saturday."

The return of speedy center Alyn McCauley provided the Sharks with a lift in Game 1. McCauley, a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, hadn't played since the first game of the playoffs because of a shoulder injury.

"When Alyn came back, we had all our speed," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "And we'll challenge any team in the league to skate with us now."

San Jose could get another key player back for Game 2. Rugged forward Scott Thornton sat out Thursday with what is believed to be a knee injury, but could return Saturday.

Colorado will have left wing Alex Tanguay in the lineup for Game 2. Tanguay, the Avs' second-leading scorer this season with 79 points, missed the previous two games with a knee injury.

"I felt great out there for a whole practice," Tanguay said. "It really hurts not being with the guys. It comes to a point where you don't have any more nails to bite, and you're just anxious to get out there. The odds are pretty good."

The series moves to Colorado for Game 3 on Monday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Avalanche - 4th seed; beat Dallas Stars 4-1, quarterfinals. Sharks - 2nd seed; beat St. Louis Blues 4-1, quarterfinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Steve Konowalchuk, 4 goals; Forsberg, Rob Blake and Marek Svatos, 5 assists; Forsberg, 9 points; Chris Gratton, 25 PIM. Sharks - Marleau, 6 goals and 7 points; Damphousse, 5 assists, Curtis Brown, 12 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 30.8 percent (8 for 26). Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (24 for 30). Sharks - Power play: 12.8 percent (5 for 39). Penalty killing: 88.9 percent (24 for 27).

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Aebischer (4-2, 0 SO, 2.50 GAA); Salo (0-0, 0.00). Sharks - Nabokov (5-1, 1, 1.63); Vesa Toskala (no appearances)

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 2-1-1. Sakic led the Avs with two goals and four assists in the series, and Milan Hejduk had two goals and three assists. Aebischer posted a 1.97 GAA in playing all four games. Nils Ekman had three goals and an assist for San Jose.

Associated Press
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