Sharks rest, recover for second round
The San Jose Sharks earned these Friday luxuries with the NHL's quickest first-round playoff victory. San Jose is expected to get at least a weeklong break following its series-clinching 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
The Sharks won't even know their opponents in the conference semifinals until Saturday at the earliest, and they're hoping to remain in the dark for as long as possible. Their early finish also might allow them to stay out of the spotlight for a while longer -- and that suits the unsung Pacific Division champions just fine.
"People can keep talking about everybody but us," said defenseman Brad Stuart, who scored a goal in the series clincher. "Hopefully, we'll stay under the radar until we win the Stanley Cup."
Wilson's first playoff series with the Sharks was a huge success -- and the coach's reward was his first golf date since the All-Star break. His aggressive, speed-based game plan was a huge success against the Blues, whose more traditional, big-hitting lineup couldn't keep up.
"We need the rest," Wilson said. "We're banged up, and I have the utmost confidence in our players to stay ready."
After setting a franchise record with 104 points and winning their second division title, the Sharks wrapped up their first-round series in five remarkably similar games.
San Jose is much faster than the Blues, and the Sharks' speed constantly led to quick scoring chances. On the other end, Evgeni Nabokov allowed just nine goals in five games -- four in the Sharks' only loss.
The Sharks' penalty killing also was outstanding, limiting the Blues to one man-advantage goal in 22 tries during the series. Again, the Sharks' speed was a decisive factor: From Alex Korolyuk to Wayne Primeau, San Jose's penalty-killers repeatedly chased the Blues out of their power-play rhythm.
Unsung heroes also emerged -- particularly in Game 5, when rookie Marcel Goc got an assist in his NHL debut. His pass was converted into a goal by Mark Smith, a fourth-line center who has played only sparingly in his four seasons with the Sharks.
Goc, a German drafted by the Sharks in the first round in 2001, battled butterflies all afternoon when he heard about the assignment. He handled it flawlessly, even if the Sharks hope he doesn't play again in the postseason.
"He was as cool as a cucumber out there," Wilson said. "I was a little worried about how he'd handle the atmosphere, but he had no problems."
Both youngsters were in the lineup only because of injuries: Thornton wasn't quite ready to return after taking a hard check in Game 4, while McCauley missed his fourth straight game because of a shoulder injury. With a week of valuable rest, both veteran forwards expect to return for the second round.
Wilson expects the Sharks to face Colorado in the second round, but he hasn't made any plans yet. San Jose will practice Saturday before resting again Sunday.
"We're just taking advantage of this," Stuart said. "It's just one step on the way to where we want to go. It's the difference between having a week off, or just two or three days. It's kind of a mental break."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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