Last-minute goal helps Avs shock Sharks

Chris Stewart’s shot deflected off San Jose defender Rob Blake’s

skate and into the net with 50 seconds left in regulation to give

the Colorado Avalanche a 2-1 victory Wednesday night in the opener

of the first-round series.

The loss was just the latest playoff disappointment for the

Sharks, who have made a bad habit of following up stellar regular

seasons with early postseason exits. San Jose has lost Game 1 at

home in its past four playoff series.

This was especially shocking, considering it came against an

eighth-seeded Avalanche team that had the worst record in the

Western Conference a year ago.

But with a second-period goal by John-Michael Liles, 25 saves

from playoff novice Craig Anderson and a fortunate bounce off the

skate of one of its former star players in Blake, the Avalanche are

off to a roaring playoff start.

After a flat second period, the Sharks tied it midway through

the third when Ryane Clowe’s bad-angle shot from the boards got

through a screen by Joe Pavelski and beat Anderson. But instead of

reversing San Jose’s playoff fortunes, it only delayed the

inevitable disappointment.

Stewart, another of Colorado’s 10 playoff newcomers in the

lineup, fired a shot in the corner in front of the net. The puck

hit off Blake’s skate and past a helpless Evgeni Nabokov. Perhaps

it was fitting that it was Blake who deflected in the winner,

considering he spent five seasons with the Avalanche, winning the

Stanley Cup in 2001.

The Sharks were greeted in introductions by a frenzied,

towel-waving crowd, hoping the team had put its past playoff

failures in the past. Despite having the second most points in the

league the past five seasons, San Jose has failed to make it past

the second round of the playoffs in that span.

The biggest disappointment came last season when the Sharks

fell in the first round to Anaheim despite having the best record

in the league in the regular season. San Jose lost the opener of

that series 2-0.

Most of the Avalanche players had no playoff failures to

burden them or success to fall back on. Half of Avs in the lineup

made their postseason debut Wednesday night. But they looked like

playoff veterans in the second half of the second period, when they

dominated the play from end to end. After failing to get a shot on

goal in the first 9 minutes of the second, Colorado outshot San

Jose 12-2 in the final 11.

The Avalanche earned two power plays with their aggressive

play, converting on the first chance when Liles shot from the point

went through traffic and beat Nabokov for the first goal of the

series.

Colorado did not fold after Clowe’s equalizer and will try to

take a 2-0 lead back home by winning game 2 on Friday night in San

Jose.

The Sharks wanted to get off to a fast start to silence the

questions about their playoff prowess and to prevent all those

postseason novices from Colorado from finding their legs. It looked

as if that was just what would happen when Stewart was called for

hooking in the offensive zone just 28 seconds into the game.

San Jose put good pressure on Anderson, getting six shots on

goal during the power play, but was unable to get any through. Dany

Heatley hit a post just after the power play ended.

There was good action at both ends for the rest of the

period. Darcy Tucker was unable to get a shot off for Colorado when

he couldn’t handle a pass from Paul Stastny on a two-on-one and

Stastny hit a post late in the period.

The Sharks best scoring chance came after T.J. Galiardi went

down behind the play when he didn’t the call after being hit in the

face by a stick. Devin Setoguchi slid a backhand wide of a mostly

empty net.