Down 3-1, Avs just want to survive

Updated: May 6, 2004, 2:51 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After practicing at San Jose's training complex earlier in the playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche held their Friday skate at the Shark Tank.

Perhaps coach Tony Granato was just reminding his team that unless the Avalanche quickly get comfortable in this imposing building, their season is finished.

The Avalanche need a victory in Game 5 on Saturday to extend their second-round playoff series against the second-seeded Sharks, who have a 3-1 lead and plenty of confidence playing at home. San Jose is one victory shy of the franchise's first trip to the Western Conference finals.

But Colorado doesn't seem rattled by its predicament, particularly after posting a tense overtime victory in Game 4. Afterward, Milan Hejduk boldly assigned all the pressure in the series to San Jose -- and several Colorado players say they're looking forward to a chance to play on just the third team in league history to recover from a 3-0 playoff series deficit.

Vincent Damphousse and the rest of the Sharks chuckle at these notions. Though they scored just one goal in the last two games in Denver, San Jose's forwards have generated plenty of chances this spring -- and with their sixth straight home victory, the Sharks could set off an unprecedented celebration at home.

"We want to get it over with as soon as possible," Damphousse said Friday. "We're back with our crowd behind us, and we'll do whatever we can to make sure we don't go back to Colorado. There's no pressure on us at all. We usually come out ready to play at home, and this shouldn't be any different."

The Sharks are 5-0 at home in the playoffs this season, outscoring St. Louis and Colorado 16-5. Captain Patrick Marleau has scored all of his league-leading seven playoff goals at the Shark Tank, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov has one shutout and three one-goal performances.

"The pressure still rides with Colorado," coach Ron Wilson said. "They have to win this game. We have three opportunities to knock them out, and we'd like to do it as soon as possible. ... Whatever happens, this is a learning experience that only makes us better, maybe further along in the playoffs, but certainly next year and for a long time."

San Jose's sturdy defense in front of Nabokov has allowed just four goals in the series, choking the flow from Colorado's star-studded lineup. The Avalanche have struggled just to move the puck across the blue line, where San Jose's defensemen and backchecking forwards are making life miserable.

But the Sharks' offense sputtered in Colorado, scoring only when Damphousse banked the puck off David Aebischer's back to win Game 3. San Jose was much more impressive at home, jumping to two early leads and hanging on to two three-goal leads.

"We feel we can do a lot better on offense," Damphousse said. "We can take more shots, get more people in front of the net, try harder for rebounds. It's just about disturbing things to [ensure Aebischer] doesn't have a good, clear view."

Colorado defenseman Adam Foote stressed the importance of discipline, particularly in the opening minutes. The Sharks have been consistently outstanding in the first period this season, a fact well-known by their opponents.

"They come really hard in the first 10 minutes in this building, and we've got to be ready for that," Foote said. "I don't know if we weren't ready for that [in the first two games], but we played with more composure at home. You have to stay within your system and do all the little things that we didn't do in the first two games."

Notes
Colorado D Rob Blake didn't skate at practice after missing Game 4 with an upper body injury, and second-leading scorer Alex Tanguay still doesn't appear fully recovered from the leg injury that kept him out for two games. ... Wilson will make a game-time decision on the status of LW Scott Thornton, who has been in and out of the lineup during the postseason. C Alyn McCauley missed six of the Sharks' last nine games, but he's expected to play.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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