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Phoenix Coyotes crash San Jose Sharks' celebration with 4-1 win

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Presidents' Trophy was lurking somewhere in the Shark Tank, and San Jose's 40th sellout crowd was eager to see the Sharks claim it at the close of a wildly successful season.

That percolating excitement proved to be quite the motivation for young Phoenix goalie Al Montoya, who created his own remarkable memory while ruining the night for everybody not wearing his jersey.

Montoya made 40 saves in the rookie's third NHL victory, and the last-place Coyotes improbably prevented the league-leading Sharks from clinching the league's best record and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with a 4-1 victory Thursday night.

Scottie Upshall and Peter Mueller each had a goal and an assist while coach Wayne Gretzky's club thoroughly wrecked the Sharks' regular-season home finale, sending San Jose to just its fifth regulation defeat here all season despite the Sharks' 41-17 shots advantage.

"It was a pretty gritty effort by our goaltender," Gretzky said. "But I thought just as important, we scored key goals at times. ... Obviously, they're a team that's going to be a little bit mentally stronger when they're up against the Detroit Red Wings or Calgary Flames. We have a great deal of respect for them, and we were ready to play against them."

Montoya, the former University of Michigan star finally getting his first big-league shot, fell just shy of the second shutout of his five-game NHL career, giving up only Travis Moen's goal with 7:38 to play. He even rallied back after losing his mask in a collision with Marcel Goc with 12 1/2 minutes to play.

Montoya was well aware of the trophy waiting for the Sharks, who already clinched home-ice advantage for the first three playoff rounds when Detroit lost to Nashville moments before the faceoff.

"You knew they were going to come out flying, (because) this is their biggest night," said Montoya, who shut out Colorado in his NHL debut eight days earlier. "It feels good coming into a building like this with a playoff-like hockey environment. The atmosphere was unreal. I just wanted to go out there and prove myself."

Upshall, Ed Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek scored in the first 24 minutes, and Mueller added a breakaway goal with 2:03 to play.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 13 shots, and Moen's goal snapped a string of more than 153 scoreless minutes at home for the Sharks, who allowed Eastern Conference-leading Boston to stay in the running for the Presidents' Trophy after the Bruins beat Montreal 5-4 in overtime.

Boston has 114 points and a game in hand on the Sharks, who have 117. If San Jose loses its season finale at Los Angeles on Saturday, the Bruins could claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with road victories over Buffalo and the New York Islanders during the weekend.

"We still want to get better, and it's very disappointing to have this result in our last regular-season (home) game," defenceman Dan Boyle said. "The energy was there, just obviously the execution was way off. We missed a lot of chances. Just poor finish on our part."

San Jose also got no boost from the return of captain Patrick Marleau and high-scoring forward Ryane Clowe, who had both been out with injuries. Although the Sharks are back near full-strength after a spate of injuries, those returned players haven't yet gelled with their old linemates - and they've nearly run out of time before the post-season.

"As the days go along and we get more practice, we'll really start hitting our passes and feeling better," said Clowe, who had been out since mid-March with a lower-body injury. "Personally, I felt good. The timing was there and everything."

The Sharks still are hoping to become the first true West Coast team to capture the Presidents' Trophy, which hasn't been won by any franchise west of Denver in two decades.

Detroit, which has won four of the past six regular-season titles, fell out of the running with its shootout loss to the Predators. The Sharks will finish with the top seed in the Western Conference, avoiding any possible playoff meeting with the tough defending champion Red Wings until the conference finals.

After Upshall's early goal, two San Jose penalties gave Phoenix a 5-on-3 advantage for the final minutes of the period, and not even the NHL's worst road power play could blow it. Jovanovski scored from the slot with 18.7 seconds left.

Michalek, the younger brother of Sharks forward Milan Michalek, scored 4 minutes into the second period.

"In my opinion, we didn't start playing until it was 3-0," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "To wait and see, and put your toes in the water to see how cold it is, and if you want to jump in or not, it's disappointing this time of year. Will has to take precedence over skill. Not sure that was the case today."

Notes: Until Moen's late goal, San Jose hadn't scored at home since early in the second period of last Saturday's loss to Anaheim. The Sharks played 65 scoreless minutes against Colorado on Tuesday night, only to win a 1-0 shootout. ... The Coyotes had scored on just 13.2 per cent of their road power plays entering the game, worst in the league. ... LW Jonathan Cheechoo, D Brad Lukowich and 43-year-old Claude Lemieux sat out for the Sharks, taking personal maintenance days before the post-season. Lemieux only returned to the Sharks' lineup on Tuesday after missing 18 games with a jaw injury.



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