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San Jose adds 'a little breathing room'

3/20/2004

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- A year ago, the San Jose Sharks had no
chance of making the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now they have an outside
shot to finish first in the Western Conference.

Alex Korolyuk broke open a tie with a pair of
third-period goals and Mark Smith snapped a 35-game scoring
drought as the Sharks rallied to beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 4-2
Friday night.

Brad Stuart had a goal and an assist, Nils Ekman had three
assists and Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves for the Sharks, who
extended their lead in the Pacific Division to five points over
Dallas. They are one point behind second-place Colorado in the
Western Conference and five behind Detroit with eight games
remaining. (The Wings have nine left to play.)

"Our chances of catching Detroit are pretty slim -- but we have
a game left with them. And if we can get some help from some other
teams here in Southern California, you never know," coach Ron
Wilson said.

"As crazy as it is, we could be playing Detroit for first
place. But you don't want to get far ahead of yourselves. This was a
huge win for us. We've given ourselves a little breathing room."

Stanislav Chistov and Sergei Fedorov scored 59 seconds apart for
the Ducks, who have only one win in seven games. Anaheim defenseman
Sandis Ozolinsh played for the first time since Dec. 19 after
missing 42 games because of an injured left shoulder.

"You can never have enough good players -- especially on the
blue line, because it's the most important position on any team.
And to lose a guy of his ability, there's no question he was
missed," Anaheim captain Steve Rucchin said.

"It would have been different with him in the lineup because he
adds so much offensively as well as defensively. He's a gifted
player, a smooth skater, he sees the ice well and he's an
intelligent player. So when you combine those things, the game's
going to be a little easier for you."

The Ducks and Sharks, who combined for just 15 goals in the previous five meetings this season, ended the first period tied 2-2.
Martin Gerber allowed two goals on 12 shots and was replaced by
Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 11:34 of the period after giving up
Smith's 10th career goal and first since April 2.

"They're a great team, and they can really skate," Anaheim
coach Mike Babcock said. "They had some power plays in the second
half of the game that gave them some momentum. They're finding ways
to win on a regular basis, and it's no accident."

Giguere, who was 3-8 against the Sharks, stopped San Jose's next
20 shots before Korolyuk beat him with a screened shot from the
slot with 16:08 to play while Ruslan Salei was serving a
high-sticking penalty.

"Any time you give a team chances to be on a power play in the
third period, sooner or later they're going to capitalize,"
Ozolinsh said. "We gave them momentum with those penalties after
we took charge of the game, and killing those penalties gets players
off their rhythm and messes up the matchups."

About seven minutes after Korolyuk's first goal, Fedorov carried
the puck into the Sharks' zone at full speed and knocked Nabokov's
mask off his head with a long slap shot. The strap on the mask
snapped and Nabokov was dazed for a couple of minutes, but he
finished the game.

"Those fiberglass masks are made so well now, I think they can
stop a bullet," Wilson said.

Korolyuk made it 4-2 with his career-high 17th goal. His intended pass for Ekman deflected in off the skate of Anaheim's Rob Niedermayer with 3:51 left.

"Alex is playing with incredible confidence right now in every
situation," Wilson said. "He's a good penalty killer, and he's
probably our most reliable forward right now in our own end, and
he's willing to pay the price."

Chistov, playing his third game since getting recalled from the minors, opened the scoring on a power play at 2:43 of the first period with his second goal of the season -- and first since Dec. 22, also against the Sharks.

Game notes
Smith played in his 200th NHL game. ... Fedorov's goal was
his 20th against San Jose, his first against them while with the Ducks.
It increased Fedorov's career point total to 1,013, tying Pat
LaFontaine for 63rd place on the NHL list. ... Anaheim had only one
power-play goal in 21 chances against the Sharks this season before
Chistov scored. ... Wilson coached the Ducks during their first
four seasons. The only players left from his final season with them
(1996-97) are Rucchin, Salei and Mike Leclerc. ... San Jose has
outscored opponents 73-38 in the first period, the NHL's largest
differential.