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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.

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."


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