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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 3-2.

TIME: Tuesday, 8 p.m. EDT.

The San Jose Sharks may still have the lead in their semifinal series, but the Colorado Avalanche have Joe Sakic.

That's enough to have the young Sharks feeling pretty nervous.

San Jose tries for the third time to close out Colorado and avoid a Game 7 when the scene shifts back to the Pepsi Center.

A berth in the conference finals for the first time appeared to be a lock for the Sharks after they dropped the Avalanche into a 3-0 hole with a 1-0 victory at home last Monday. Only two teams have rallied to win a series after trailing three-games-to-none, the last time in 1975.

That fact is providing little comfort to the Sharks now. Sakic, the Avs captain, has led his club to consecutive victories to send the series back to Denver with a chance to pull even.

"We have to win it as soon as possible," Sharks center Alyn McCauley said. "Give them credit for coming back and winning two games, but ... we have to get it done in Colorado."

The Sharks proved to be bad front-runners, appearing tight and losing their aggressiveness in falling in Games 4 and 5. That may have been due to the performance of Sakic, who led his club to Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001 and has brought his team back from an all-but hopeless situation in this series.

Sakic scored in overtime of Game 4 to give Colorado a 1-0 victory Wednesday. He followed it up by scoring the tying goal midway through the third period of Game 5, then got the winner in extra time again Saturday to lift the Avalanche to a 2-1 victory.

"Like I said after Game 4, if we could win this one, it puts a lot of pressure on them," Sakic said. "Our building's going to be pretty loud. It's going to be exciting to play Game 6 and hopefully we can get the same results."

Sakic tied Maurice Richard's NHL record of seven overtime playoff goals with the winners in Games 4 and 5.

"It's about momentum, and we've got it now," said Sakic, the 1996 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. "Everybody thought we were done, the worst team on the planet. We've got too many quality guys to go out that way, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't get the next one."

Sakic's calm, confident approach, forged during 152 career playoff games, is something the Sharks can't match. It's also helped Sakic's equally experienced teammates wake up and start to resemble their highly skilled selves.

Frustrated by the Sharks' physical approach early in the series, Peter Forsberg has been dishing out some punishment of his own, and set up Sakic's winner Saturday with a nifty, no-look pass from behind the net.

Former Shark Teemu Selanne, a disappointment in his first season in Colorado, had an outstanding game Saturday, setting up Sakic's first goal.

Colorado is also drawing confidence from goaltender David Aebischer, who has played like a poised veteran the last two games after the Sharks were able to rattle him in the first three contests. Aebischer stopped 27 shots for his first career playoff shutout in Game 4, and looked calm and effortless while making 21 saves Saturday.

Aebischer may have turned the tide in his matchup with Evgeni Nabokov, who was repeatedly left unprotected by the Sharks' shoddy defense and backchecking in Game 5.

"Everybody in here is confident we can do it," Aebischer said. "We're just going to have to do the same things we did the last two games - work hard. That's pretty much all we can do."

San Jose, which suffered its first home loss in six playoff games, must get back to the aggressive approach it had early in the series if it wants to stem Colorado's rising tide of momentum. The Sharks outworked the Avalanche and played them physical in the first three games, but Colorado's world-class forwards had San Jose back on its heels for most of Games 4 and 5.

"Some guys failed miserably in the last couple of games to get the job done," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "That team was coming hard. They played with a desperation we hadn't seen from them in this series."

The Sharks may need some leadership from playoff veterans such as Vincent Damphousse and Mike Ricci if they want to avoid a seventh game. Both players have had strong series, with Damphousse scoring on a two-man advantage in the first period Saturday for San Jose.

Colorado defenseman Rob Blake attempted to come back from the upper-body injury that kept him out of Game 4, but played just one shift in Game 5 before heading to the locker room. His status for Tuesday is uncertain.

The New York Islanders were the last team to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series, defeating Pittsburgh in the 1975 quarterfinals. Those Islanders were also the last team to force a Game 7 after trailing three-games-to-none, falling behind in the following series against Philadelphia, rallying with three straight wins and then losing in the finale.

Game 7 would be Thursday night at San Jose.

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; Niko Dimitrakos, 7 assists; Marleau and Damphousse, 10 points; Scott Hannan and Curtis Brown, 14 PIM. Avalanche - Sakic, 7 goals; Forsberg, 7 assists; Sakic and Forsberg, 11 points; Matthew Barnaby and Chris Gratton, 27 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 14.8 percent (8 for 54). Penalty killing: 93.0 percent (40 for 43). Avalanche - Power play: 19.0 percent (8 for 42). Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (36 for 45).

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (7-3, 2 SO, 1.37 GAA); Vesa Toskala (no appearances). Avalanche - Aebischer (6-4, 1, 1.99); Tommy Salo (0-0, 0.00).

Associated Press
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