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

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Sharks lead 2-0.

TIME: Monday, 8 p.m. EDT.

The playoff series between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche was billed as a matchup between Colorado's superstars and San Jose's gritty, blue-collar approach.

Instead, the first two games have been a showcase for the Sharks' elite players, who have dominated their Avalanche counterparts.

San Jose looks to put a stranglehold on this semifinal series when the scene shifts to the Pepsi Center for Game 3.

Patrick Marleau scored his NHL-leading seventh goal of the postseason, and Jonathan Cheechoo scored a spectacular, between-the-legs goal as the Sharks routed the Avs 4-1 on Saturday night to take a two-games-to-none lead.

Relatively unknown, Sharks like Marleau and Cheechoo have grabbed the spotlight from big-name Avalanche players such as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne and Rob Blake.

"I think most hockey people know about us," said Marleau, who had a hat trick in the series opener. "Maybe we don't get all the attention that some teams do, but we're just focused on our goals."

Marleau, Cheechoo and Vincent Damphousse each had a goal and an assist for San Jose on Saturday. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who has thoroughly outplayed Colorado's David Aebischer, made 20 saves despite getting flattened by Forsberg in the second period.

The Sharks also put together their usual speedy, workmanlike effort that sent them to Denver with all the momentum. The flashy goal by Cheechoo didn't hurt their spirits either.

On a third-period power play, Brad Stuart took the puck low and made a slow pass in front to Cheechoo, who put his stick backward between his legs and flipped a shot past Aebischer's glove in one fluid motion. Coach Ron Wilson didn't believe his eyes until he checked the Sharks' replay monitor on the bench.

"I don't think I've ever even practiced that," said Cheechoo, a 28-goal scorer during the regular season. "I was just running out of options. Their sticks were in the way, in the way, in the way, and I had to try something."

Niko Dimitrakos had two assists, including an exceptional pass to Marleau to set up the captain's goal in the final minute of the second period. Dimitrakos has five assists in the Sharks' two second-round games, both models of San Jose's relentless discipline, puck possession and strong defense.

Milan Hejduk scored for the Avalanche, who have lost the first two games of a playoff series for the first time since 1999. Colorado was better in Game 2 after losing its composure and starting four late fights in the series-opening 5-2 loss, with Hejduk taking advantage of a sloppy San Jose line change to give the Avs a 1-0 lead at 7:01 of the first period Saturday.

The Sharks, though, dominated the rest of the way, scoring twice on the power play, once at even strength and adding Wayne Primeau's empty net goal with 55 seconds left to create some desperation in Colorado's dressing room.

"We have to win Game 3. We have no choice," Sakic said. "We get a little sloppy when things don't go our way, and we have to turn that around. They have the jump on us. We're getting outworked. They're playing with a lot more intensity than we are."

Sakic, the captain, knows his teammates' superior talent level won't matter if they can't match the Sharks' work ethic. The Avs did get a dominant physical game from Forsberg, but his aggressive style also resulted in two key interference penalties in the second period.

"Sometimes you get the calls, but I'm not happy with the way we're playing," Forsberg said. "We need to take care of things on our home ice. We definitely need to play better. They have outplayed us."

Colorado especially needs Aebischer to return to his first-round form and outplay Nabokov. After allowing just 10 goals in five games against Dallas in the quarterfinals, Aebischer has given up nine goals in the first two contests against San Jose. He was pulled in Game 1 in favor of Tommy Salo after allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Aebischer hasn't gotten much help. Colorado has given San Jose 18 power plays in the first two games, while drawing only nine. The Sharks converted twice in each contest.

With the return of All-Star forward Alex Tanguay, who missed the previous two games with a knee injury, Colorado scratched Selanne, a nine-time All-Star, in Game 2.

Colorado defeated Detroit in six games after falling behind 2-0 in the 1999 semifinals, the only other time the Avs have been in a two-games-to-none hole since moving to Denver. The Sharks won the only series they led 2-0, defeating Calgary in seven games in the 1995 quarterfinals.

Game 4 is Wednesday night.

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

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Marleau, 7 goals and 9 points; Damphousse and Dimitrakos, 6 assists; Curtis Brown and Scott Hannan, 12 PIM. Avalanche - four with 4 goals; Forsberg, 6 assists and 10 points; Matthew Barnaby and Chris Gratton, 25 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 15.2 percent (7 for 46). Penalty killing: 90.3 percent (28 for 31). Avalanche - Power play: 26.7 percent (8 for 30). Penalty killing: 78.4 percent (29 for 37).

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

Associated Press
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