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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 3-0.

TIME: Wednesday, 10 p.m. EDT.

Colorado Avalanche goaltender David Aebischer may someday develop into the type of steady playoff performer that San Jose Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov has been during the teams' semifinal series.

Unfortunately for the Avs, that's little consolation in this postseason as San Jose has pushed them to the verge of what would be a stunning sweep.

Nabokov and the Sharks look to finish off Colorado and reach the conference finals for the first time in team history as the clubs meet in Game 4.

Nabokov stifled Colorado's lineup of high-priced All-Stars for the third straight game Monday night, stopping 33 shots, and Vincent Damphousse scored as the Sharks won 1-0 at the Pepsi Center.

San Jose's goalie has allowed three goals in the three wins in a breakout playoff performance. Nabokov was 8-8 with a 2.59 goals-against average in his first two trips to the playoffs.

"I think Nabokov was great," Damphousse said. "He stole the win for us. You need that to go far in the playoffs."

Nabokov allowed only nine goals in five games against St. Louis in the first round.

On Monday night, he made several outstanding stops, including a glove save on Milan Hejduk in the first period and a sprawling stop on Teemu Selanne in the third. Nabokov made 10 saves in the final period to earn his third career playoff shutout.

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

For the previous eight seasons, Colorado could always depend on future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy to help carry them deep into the postseason. But Aebischer, who took over when Roy retired after last season, has shown growing pains in his first postseason as the Avs' top goalie.

Although he allowed only 10 goals in Colorado's impressive five-game victory over Dallas in the quarterfinals, Aebischer has given up that many in three games of this series.

Aebischer's frustrations have been evident, as the Sharks have been able to rattle the 26-year-old goaltender by driving into his crease. Aebischer has taken repeated shots at San Jose players with his blocker, his glove and on a few occasions, his stick.

Aebischer was bowled over again Monday night late in the third period by San Jose's Niko Dimitrakos, who wasn't whistled for a penalty.

"Yeah, I don't get any calls," an irritated Aebischer told the Denver Post. "So I have to just live with it."

Damphousse further tormented Colorado's young goalie in Game 3, banking the puck off Aebischer's back and into the net at 8:59 of the third for the only goal of the game.

Few observers predicted the Sharks would defeat the talented and experienced Avalanche in this series, and no one could have expected San Jose to be on the verge of a sweep. But Colorado has been thoroughly outworked, and San Jose has been able to expose an Avs lineup that appears to be lacking in cohesiveness and chemistry, as well as grit.

The Sharks have also frustrated the Avalanche with their ability to keep the puck from reaching Nabokov. While the desperate Avs did manage to generate 33 shots by getting their speed going in Game 3, they found themselves trying to gather up the puck time and time again after the Sharks blocked many other shots.

"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."

Selanne, though, probably knows that continuing to push won't make much of a difference. Only two teams have rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, the last being the 1975 New York Islanders.

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

They may have to do it without top defenseman Rob Blake, who sustained an upper body injury in the first period and didn't return. The team confirmed Blake had X-rays but disclosed no further information about his status for Game 4.

There's also a chance Wednesday's game could be the last in the NHL for Avs star Peter Forsberg, who has talked increasingly in the past few years about returning to play in his native Sweden. With a possible work stoppage looming, there is speculation the 30-year-old Forsberg, whose contract expires at the end of the playoffs, will choose this offseason to end his 10-year NHL career.

If Colorado manages to stay alive Wednesday, the series would shift back to HP Pavilion for Game 5 on Saturday afternoon.

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 - Patrick Marleau, 7 goals and 10 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: 14.6 percent (7 for 48). Penalty killing: 90.9 percent (30 for 33). Avalanche - Power play: 25.0 percent (8 for 32). Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (31 for 39).

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (7-1, 2 SO, 1.35 GAA); Vesa Toskala (no appearances). Avalanche - Aebischer (4-4, 2.38); Tommy Salo (0-0, 0.00).

Associated Press
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