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San Jose Sharks 3, Colorado Avalanche 1 FINAL @NHLdotcom

DENVER (AP) _ The San Jose Sharks made sure the Colorado Avalanche didn't have a chance to break their hearts again.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 28 shots, and San Jose scored three goals in the second period to help the Sharks finally finish off the Avalanche 3-1 Tuesday night and reach the conference finals for the first time in their 13-year history.

San Jose had lost the last four times it had a chance to close Colorado out, including the final two games in 2002.

``I've been waiting 10 years to beat that team, and we finally did it,'' San Jose's Mike Rathje said.

San Jose lost to Colorado in the playoffs twice in the past five years and seemed headed toward more disappointment after the Avalanche won consecutive overtime games.

Not wanting the series to be extended to Game 7, the Sharks swarmed Colorado from the start and got goals from Vincent Damphousse, Marcel Goc and Jonathan Cheechoo in an 11-minute span of the second period to close out the series in six games.

``It's a pretty fun roll,'' said Sharks coach Ron Wilson, whose team will face the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference finals. ``For a while there it got to be a roller coaster, but I'm really proud of our team. To all the Sharks fans, hoist one up for our boys tonight, because it was quite an effort out there.''

The Avalanche won Games 4 and 5 in overtime to put themselves in position to become the third team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0. They just fell short.

Colorado was sluggish early and couldn't beat Nabokov again after Milan Hejduk scored late in the second period for a disappointing end to a season that began with hopes of a third Stanley Cup title.

``We had an unbelievable lineup and it's too bad it didn't work out,'' Colorado's Peter Forsberg said. ``We didn't play good enough and they beat us.''

After scoring two goals in three games, San Jose got back to the puck-control style that was so effective in the first two games of the series. The Sharks comfortably set up in Colorado's zone for long stretches to create scoring chances and force the Avalanche to react.

Colorado certainly helped with its sluggishness, spending most of the first period chipping pucks weakly out of its own end and managing just two shots.

``We played the perfect first period,'' Damphousse said. ``Although the score was 0-0, we thought we wore them down and played the style we wanted to play. It was just a matter of time when we cracked their focus.''

He was right.

Damphousse broke through 1:34 into the second period with his fifth goal of the series, lifting a shot over David Aebischer's right shoulder after Niko Dimitrakos' shot from the side bounced through the crease.

Goc made it 2-0 just over seven minutes later, tipping Curtis Brown's shot past Aebischer's stick side.

Cheechoo added to the lead just three minutes later when he kept the puck on a two-on-one, deked Paul Kariya to the ice and beat Aebischer with a wrist shot a few seconds after San Jose killed off a penalty.

``I think that the problem is that when we get down one goal or so, we open up a little bit too much and too early,'' Aebischer said. ``That's when they got the next goals. It's tough to come back from 3-0 against that team.''

Hejduk gave Colorado some hope with 2:26 left in the period, bouncing a shot off Nabokov's mask from the left circle with Colorado on a two-man advantage.

The Avalanche turned up the pressure in the third period, but Nabokov was there each time. He stopped nine shots in the period to finish the series with a 1.01 goals-against average.

``Any time you beat Colorado, it's huge,'' Nabokov said. ``They have so much over there. You've accomplished something when you beat them anywhere.''

Forsberg couldn't get much going in what might have been his final NHL game.

He was physical, as usual, but couldn't find room to create like he did in the previous two games. He also lost control of the puck a few times, and most of his usually crisp passes seemed to just miss.

With his contract up and an NHL lockout possible, Forsberg could be headed home to Sweden to finish his hockey career.

``Right now I really don't want to think about it,'' Forsberg said. ``We'll see what happens over the summer. I'll just sit back and think about it later on.''

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