Colorado hopes Game 1 just a wakeup call

Updated: April 27, 2004, 3:21 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Colorado Avalanche have some catching up to do.

They were caught flat-footed by the speedy San Jose Sharks in the opener of their second-round series, losing 5-2 and looking terrible in the process. Colorado made crucial mistakes with the puck, got outmuscled by San Jose's physical defense and lost its composure in the final minutes, gooning it up in several fights.

So why was Matthew Barnaby smiling after practice at the Sharks' training complex as the Avalanche prepared for Saturday's rematch?

"Hopefully it's a wakeup call for us," said Barnaby, who got an instigator penalty late in Game 1. "If you play a good team the way we played them, you're going to be embarrassed. We got it, and we'll be fine."

If any team should have known the hazards of facing the low-profile Sharks, it's Colorado. Coach Tony Granato and wing Teemu Selanne both wore teal in recent seasons, and the Avalanche earned two wins and a tie in four regular-season meetings.

But Granato's team wasn't ready for the Sharks' combination of front-line speed and blue-line toughness. The Avalanche weren't able to run their normal cycling offense, going scoreless at even strength.

On the other end, the Sharks skated circles around Colorado's vaunted defense. Patrick Marleau led the way, getting his second hat trick of the playoffs.

"We have to be much more aggressive," Avs defenseman Rob Blake said Friday. "We can't allow guys like Marleau and [Vincent] Damphousse to speed through the neutral zone. We have to tighten up all around. We were beaten in all aspects, but that's fine. We have to learn from it."

Marleau was the star of Game 1 -- but a day later, the Sharks' captain remained unimpressed by his own accomplishments. He praised San Jose's teamwork, noting the contributions from every skater against Colorado's star-heavy lineup.

"When we're playing really well with all four lines, it's hard to defend everybody because we're balanced and we can get scoring from anybody," Marleau said.

Granato remained confident in goalie David Aebischer, who was yanked after Marleau's third goal midway through the second period. In his first full season as Colorado's top netminder, Aebischer has played well in four playoff games -- and not so well in two others.

But the Sharks' aggressive start was the biggest reason for the Avalanche's struggles. The NHL's best first-period team during the regular season added three more goals against Colorado, but that offensive outburst was aided by San Jose's strong defense in the opening minutes.

"We didn't let them do any of the things they like to do," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "We came out flying, and played that way for 60 minutes. We just have to repeat that three more times."

Granato challenged his players to match that first-period intensity. And perhaps the Avalanche can fight speed with speed: They could get a boost from the return of second-leading scorer Alex Tanguay. The left wing sat out the last two games with a knee injury, but he should be ready to return after a full practice Friday.

"Out of the gate, we didn't dictate how the game was played," Granato said. "We have to have a better start. We have to outskate them. We have to take the initiative. It was one of those nights when it didn't matter who was in net. They were going to get their goals."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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