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San Jose Sharks 1, Colorado Avalanche 0 FINAL @NHLdotcom

DENVER (AP) _ Evgeni Nabokov could be on his way to becoming this season's Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Nabokov stifled Colorado's lineup of high-priced All-Stars for the third straight game, stopping 33 shots Monday night to help the San Jose Sharks beat the Avalanche 1-0 and move within one game of their first trip to the conference finals.

``I think Nabokov was great,'' said Vincent Damphousse, who scored San Jose's only goal. ``He stole the win for us. You need that to go far in the playoffs.''

Giguere did just that in 2003 when he helped the Anaheim Mighty Ducks reach the Stanley Cup finals.

San Jose fought off Colorado's early rush and got an improbable goal by Damphousse off the back of Colorado goalie David Aebischer midway through the third period to set up a possible sweep Wednesday in Denver.

It wouldn't have been possible without Nabokov.

He was solid with 31 wins and a team-record nine shutouts during the regular season, but it would have been hard to predict he'd be this good in the playoffs.

Nabokov is 7-1 with two shutouts so far, and his goals-against average is a minuscule 1.30. Against Colorado, he's given up three goals in three games against a team that features high-scoring forwards Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk.

It's even more impressive considering Nabokov was 8-8 with a 2.59 average his previous two trips to the playoffs.

``I just try to do my job, to take everything that comes to me,'' Nabokov said. ``Without the guy's help, I wouldn't be able to do that.''

Colorado was much better defensively, limiting San Jose's chances and cutting down on the miscues that left Aebischer helpless at times in the first two games.

The Avalanche held San Jose to 17 shots _ five in the third period _ but continued to struggle finding the net against the stingy Sharks. Colorado has three goals against San Jose after scoring 19 in five games against Dallas in the first round.

The Avalanche need to find a way to get better in a hurry or they'll be swept for the first time since Hartford did it in a best-of-five series in 1986, when the franchise was still in Quebec.

As for coming back from an 0-3 deficit, that's only been done twice in NHL history and not since the New York Islanders did it against Pittsburgh in 1975.

``The only thing we can worry about is the next game,'' Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. ``I know it will be our best game and we will battle like crazy.''

San Jose didn't have a shot in the third period until Damphousse knocked in his own rebound off Aebischer's back with 11:01 left.

Aebischer blocked Damphousse's first attempt after Scott Hannan's shot bounced hard off the boards, but Damphousse used Aebischer as a backboard to score inside the left post from behind the goal.

``I was behind the net, so everybody kind of moved up to clear the front and I was able to bank it off,'' Damphousse said. ``I think that it was a little bit of a fluky goal.''

After being outworked and outhustled the first two games in San Jose, Colorado was intent on making sure that trend didn't go on once the series shifted to Denver.

The Avalanche had an extra jump in their step early in front of the home crowd, flying into San Jose's zone, zipping crisp passes, and pounding the Sharks with hard checks every chance they got.

But Nabokov made sure Colorado's early rush didn't amount to anything.

He made several tough stops, including a glove save on Hejduk after a nice drop pass from Forsberg, and got a break when John-Michael Liles' shot from the blue line hit the left post through traffic.

Colorado added 12 more shots in the second period, but still couldn't solve Nabokov. He got a piece of Hejduk's open shot from the slot on a power play midway through, then dived back to cover after the puck ricocheted between him and Colorado's Dan Hinote on a rebound in the closing seconds.

Nabokov also had 10 saves in the third period, including a sprawling stop on Teemu Selanne midway through, to finish off his third career playoff shutout.

``Nabokov was good this time,'' said Selanne, back after being a healthy scratch in Game 2. ``With all the chances we had, this could've easily been 5-1. We just have to keep pushing.''

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