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Sharks face Blues in first round of playoffs

4/4/2004

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks found one more
marvel in their bottomless bag.

Brad Stuart tied the game with two goals in the final 20 seconds
of regulation, and Vincent Damphousse scored with 3:10 into
overtime to send San Jose into the playoffs with a 4-3 victory over
the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.

With three goals in 3{ minutes, the Sharks capped the best
season in franchise history with a stunning comeback in both teams'
season finales. The Pacific Division champions, seeded second in
the Western Conference with 43 victories and 104 points, wound up
with the NHL's third-best record one year after finishing 25th.

"That's sort of the way we've done it all season: We find a lot
of ways to surprise you," Stuart said. "We're not a surprise to
ourselves, though. Nobody has really expected us to do much all
year, but as long as we're confident in this room, that's all that
matters."

San Jose will face St. Louis in the first round, expected to
start Thursday.

The Kings took a 3-1 lead in the third period on goals by
Jaroslav Modry and John Tripp, but the Sharks rallied by pulling
goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the final minute after Luc Robitaille was
called for holding.

Stuart got his first goal on a slap shot with 20 seconds left --
and with time running out, the defenseman charged the net and
slammed home a centering pass from Damphousse with 2.3 seconds to
play, sending the sellout crowd at the Shark Tank into bedlam.

Stuart's two goals in 17 seconds set a franchise record for the
Sharks, who won for the sixth time in seven games.

"There wasn't much at stake for both clubs, but we did what we
needed to do," Damphousse said. "I think we were waiting for
Thursday to step it up, but we got started with this one."

Damphousse won it in overtime, beating goalie Roman Cechmanek
from the slot for his 12th goal. The crowd cheered the Sharks off
the ice, then erupted in several more standing ovations when the
team returned from the locker room for a curtain call.

"It's been the story of our team the whole season to not give
up," coach Ron Wilson said. "When everyone thinks we're out of
the game or out of the season, we find a way to bounce back."

Modry scored his first goal in 56 games for the Kings, whose
season-ending winless streak stretched to 11 games (0-9-0-2).

Incredibly, Andy Murray must wait until next season to become
the winningest coach in franchise history -- if he's still around.
Murray tied Bob Pulford's record with his 178th victory on March
14, but the Kings haven't won since, putting Murray's future in
jeopardy.

"It just rips your heart out," Murray said. "To not be in the
playoffs and then to have this last game go like this is tough. ...
I'm kind of numb right now as you can imagine."

It might have been the final game for Robitaille, the
highest-scoring left wing in NHL history with 653 goals and 1,370
points. The Kings haven't said whether the 17-year veteran will be
invited back.

"I want to come back, it's just circumstances I can't
control," Robitaille said. "We'll see what's going to happen with
that, but I know I have one more good year in me. ... I don't think
it'd be a problem with the Kings, but there's the labor agreement.
Those are the factors for me, but I want to play one more year. I
don't want it to end like this."

Nathan Dempsey also scored for Los Angeles, while Cechmanek made
38 saves but couldn't hang on for his first victory since Feb. 10.
Tripp got his second NHL goal with 6{ minutes left in regulation.

Alex Korolyuk also scored for the Sharks, who avoided finishing
the season with consecutive home losses. Nabokov made 25 saves for
his 31st victory.

Game notes
Three important Kings weren't in attendance at the close of
lost seasons. Ziggy Palffy missed his 42nd game with a dislocated
right shoulder, while Jason Allison officially missed the entire
season with a concussion and whiplash. Allison hasn't played since
Jan. 25, 2003, while Adam Deadmarsh, who also had a serious
concussion, hasn't played since Dec. 15, 2002. ... Los Angeles
needed nearly 9{ minutes to get its first shot. ... Sharks captain
Patrick Marleau was named the team's player of the year, and
defenseman Tom Preissing was the top rookie. Marleau finished the
season as the Sharks' leading scorer with 57 points, but has just
one goal in 17 games.