Nabokov carries Sharks to shootout win over Avalanche

SAN JOSE, California (AP) — For 65 excruciatingly scoreless
minutes, the San Jose Sharks barely threatened to dent the net
of the Western Conference’s last-place team. They missed easy
passes, skated with little vigor and generally looked nothing
like a club that could win the Presidents’ Trophy in two days.

Luckily for the Sharks, their goalie was still world-class.

Evgeni Nabokov made 20 saves in his seventh shutout and then
stopped all three Colorado attempts in the shootout, carrying
the Sharks two points closer to clinching the NHL’s best
regular-season record with a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on
Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski scored the only goal during the first round of the
shootout for the Sharks, who moved five points ahead of Boston
for the trophy awarded to the top regular-season team. San Jose
also clinched at least a tie for the Western Conference’s best
record by taking a six-point lead over Detroit, although the Red
Wings still have a shot at home-ice advantage.

With one win over Phoenix or Los Angeles in their final two
games this week, the Sharks will clinch home-ice advantage
throughout the playoffs and lock up the sport’s biggest
regular-season honors. The prelude to that coronation wasn’t
encouraging, but the Sharks insist they’ve got plenty of time to
reclaim their game before the playoffs open next week.

“We didn’t generate a whole lot of offense, but we felt good,”
Pavelski said. “It’s been a process for us all year. It got away
from us a little bit at the end, but we’ve got to get it back.
… Nabby was solid. He’s done it for us all the time lately.
Goaltending has been good for us.”

Nabokov looked sharp after taking a rare day off last Sunday in
Anaheim, but his teammates failed to score a power-play goal for
the first time in 12 games. San Jose also struggled at the Tank
for the second straight outing, yet still improved the league’s
best home record to 32-4-4, also sweeping its four-game series
with Colorado.

“You have to give them credit. They played a (heck) of a game in
the terms of discipline and work effort,” Nabokov said. “They
played hard, and they played well. It was tough to break them
down. We didn’t get frustrated, and we had some chances. We got
the win and the two points we need.”

San Jose has a franchise-record 117 points, five more than the
Eastern Conference-leading Bruins after Boston’s 3-2 loss at
Ottawa. The Sharks also lead Detroit, which has 111 points, for
the top seed in the West.

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San Jose wasn’t in position to clinch anything with a win over
Colorado — and the Sharks played like it. Boston still is in
the running for the Presidents’ Trophy with a game in hand on
the Sharks, while Detroit would win a theoretical tiebreaker
with San Jose on total victories if the clubs end up tied.

Peter Budaj stopped 30 shots in his second shutout for the
Avalanche, missing only Pavelski’s low shot to his stick side.
The Avalanche have lost nine of 10, but emerged encouraged from
their shutout loss.

“When you think of a 0-0 game, you think it’s a boring game,
(but) I didn’t see the game as boring at all,” coach Tony
Granato said. “They’re a great team with a great goalie, and
Nabokov was the difference in three of our games against them.”

The Sharks’ playoff push didn’t get much of a boost with the
return of veteran forwards Mike Grier and Lemieux, both out
since March 3 with injuries that cost them 18 games apiece.
Captain Patrick Marleau and high-scoring forward Ryane Clowe
also are expected to come off the shelf this week — and the
Sharks probably can use the offensive reinforcements.

“We weren’t making the best decisions, but we adjusted,” Lemieux
said. “We’ve had a lot of these ugly wins, and what matters (is)
you find a way to win.”

The first period was largely lifeless, with San Jose failing to
get a shot until eight minutes in. Both clubs combined for just
five shots.

The pace picked up in the final two periods, with San Jose
launching 16 shots in the second, but the Avalanche had more
solid scoring chances than San Jose. Nabokov turned all of them
away, while Colorado also hit his posts at least twice.

San Jose got a golden opportunity when Cody McLeod committed an
obvious slashing penalty with 1:09 left in regulation. But Budaj
made a remarkable stop on Jeremy Roenick’s point-blank chance in
front of the net in the final minute, and the Sharks did nothing
with their 4-on-3 advantage early in OT.

Mike Vernace tripped Christian Ehrhoff midway through overtime
to give San Jose its fifth power play, but Budaj made a
sprawling glove save against the post on Milan Michalek’s best
attempt with 40 seconds left.

“We got a little sloppy in the second period, but I was able to
make stops,” Budaj said. “Nabokov made some big saves. It’s a
tough way to lose, because we played well enough to win it.”