SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Niko Dimitrakos' first NHL playoff game contained
enough emotions to make a rookie old before his time.
There was the early euphoria of his postseason debut, followed by panic from
committing a dumb penalty _ and finally, the thrill of a game-winning goal.
Dimitrakos scored 9:16 into overtime, and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 26 shots to
lead the San Jose Sharks to a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues in the
opener of their first-round playoff series Thursday night.
Nabokov earned the second playoff shutout of his career, playing flawlessly
behind the Sharks' sturdy defense. He won a duel with Blues goalie Chris
Osgood, a former Stanley Cup winner who stopped the Sharks' first 28 shots.
But even Nabokov thought the night belonged to Dimitrakos, whose energetic
play was an overlooked factor in the Sharks' resurgence this season.
``I couldn't have dreamed this up any better,'' Dimitrakos said. ``This is
definitely the biggest thing I've ever done in hockey. To score a goal in
overtime is something that I dreamed about, playing on the street.''
Dimitrakos ended the scoreless game with an opportunity granted by the
Blues, who hesitated to play a puck in their own zone after Vincent Damphousse
made a hand pass. Dimitrakos capitalized, faking a pass to Patrick Marleau to
draw Osgood away from the post, then firing the puck over the St. Louis
``I knew Patty was going to the back post, and I knew (Osgood) knew it,''
Dimitrakos said. ``I just thought I had enough room over his shoulder, and I
Before the game, Dimitrakos drew inspiration from watching the University of
Maine _ his alma mater _ advance to the Frozen Four final. In the second
period, he spent four panicked minutes in the box for high-sticking _ but San
Jose killed off both penalties.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday, followed by back-to-back
games in St. Louis on Monday and Tuesday.
San Jose and St. Louis both entered the playoffs on prolonged rolls, and
both defenses were on top of their games in the opener. Osgood and the Blues
weathered a lengthy first-period rally by the Sharks, while Nabokov was
impressive in the final two periods of regulation.
``You definitely want the first game, and we had our chances,'' said Keith
Tkachuk, who badly missed the net during a two-on-one breakout in overtime.
``We couldn't find that second or third effort to put it in. That was the
difference. These are the games we want to play: good technical, defensive
hockey. We obviously want to get the split.''
The Sharks are facing the Blues in the first round for the third time in
five seasons. San Jose upset top-seeded St. Louis in 2000, but the Blues beat
the Sharks one year later.
The rivalry is made particularly intense by the teams' contrasting styles.
San Jose plays a speed-based, disciplined game, while St. Louis largely relies
on its physical defense led by Chris Pronger, who has been booed every time he
touched the puck in the Shark Tank for the last five years.
``It's a different feeling, playing in the playoffs,'' Nabokov said.
``Everything seems a little different, but we have to keep preparing and
working the same way. Both teams were coming pretty hard tonight, shooting
everywhere. It wasn't like a (normal) 1-0 game.''
San Jose flew through the opening minutes, skating circles around the Blues
and taking an 11-6 advantage in shots with a typically fast start for the NHL's
best first-period team. But Osgood met every challenge.
``I'm used to San Jose coming out and playing good, especially in their
building,'' Osgood said. ``I felt pretty good. My job was to keep us in the
game. I tried to cover as many as I could.''
St. Louis took control in the second period by amplifying its physical play,
but Nabokov remained sharp into the third, kicking aside a point-blank scoring
chance for Doug Weight.