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Nabokov nabs second career playoff shutout

4/9/2004

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Niko Dimitrakos' first NHL playoff game
contained enough emotions to make a rookie old before his time.

There was the early euphoria of his postseason debut, followed
by panic from committing a dumb penalty -- and finally, the thrill
of a game-winning goal.

Dimitrakos scored 9:16 into overtime, and Evgeni Nabokov stopped
26 shots to lead the San Jose Sharks to a 1-0 victory over the St.
Louis Blues in the opener of their first-round playoff series
Thursday night.

Nabokov earned the second playoff shutout of his career, playing
flawlessly behind the Sharks' sturdy defense. He won a duel with
Blues goalie Chris Osgood, a former Stanley Cup winner who stopped
the Sharks' first 28 shots.

But even Nabokov thought the night belonged to Dimitrakos, whose
energetic play was an overlooked factor in the Sharks' resurgence
this season.

"I couldn't have dreamed this up any better," Dimitrakos said.
"This is definitely the biggest thing I've ever done in hockey. To
score a goal in overtime is something that I dreamed about, playing
on the street."

Dimitrakos ended the scoreless game with an opportunity granted
by the Blues, who hesitated to play a puck in their own zone after
Vincent Damphousse made a hand pass. Dimitrakos capitalized, faking
a pass to Patrick Marleau to draw Osgood away from the post, then
firing the puck over the St. Louis goalie's glove.

"I knew Patty was going to the back post, and I knew (Osgood)
knew it," Dimitrakos said. "I just thought I had enough room over
his shoulder, and I was right."

Before the game, Dimitrakos drew inspiration from watching the
University of Maine -- his alma mater -- advance to the Frozen Four
final. In the second period, he spent four panicked minutes in the
box for high-sticking -- but San Jose killed off both penalties.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday, followed by
back-to-back games in St. Louis on Monday and Tuesday.

San Jose and St. Louis both entered the playoffs on prolonged
rolls, and both defenses were on top of their games in the opener.
Osgood and the Blues weathered a lengthy first-period rally by the
Sharks, while Nabokov was impressive in the final two periods of
regulation.

"You definitely want the first game, and we had our chances,"
said Keith Tkachuk, who badly missed the net during a two-on-one
breakout in overtime. "We couldn't find that second or third
effort to put it in. That was the difference. These are the games
we want to play: good technical, defensive hockey. We obviously
want to get the split."

The Sharks are facing the Blues in the first round for the third
time in five seasons. San Jose upset top-seeded St. Louis in 2000,
but the Blues beat the Sharks one year later.

The rivalry is made particularly intense by the teams'
contrasting styles. San Jose plays a speed-based, disciplined game,
while St. Louis largely relies on its physical defense led by Chris
Pronger, who has been booed every time he touched the puck in the
Shark Tank for the last five years.

"It's a different feeling, playing in the playoffs," Nabokov
said. "Everything seems a little different, but we have to keep
preparing and working the same way. Both teams were coming pretty
hard tonight, shooting everywhere. It wasn't like a (normal) 1-0
game."

San Jose flew through the opening minutes, skating circles
around the Blues and taking an 11-6 advantage in shots with a
typically fast start for the NHL's best first-period team. But
Osgood met every challenge.

"I'm used to San Jose coming out and playing good, especially
in their building," Osgood said. "I felt pretty good. My job was
to keep us in the game. I tried to cover as many as I could."

St. Louis took control in the second period by amplifying its
physical play, but Nabokov remained sharp into the third, kicking
aside a point-blank scoring chance for Doug Weight.

Game notes
The goalies have dueled before: In the teams' last meeting
on Feb. 29, Nabokov and the Sharks beat the Blues 1-0. ... The
Sharks had an inauspicious start when Damphousse tripped over the
teeth on the Sharks' oversized shark head. The players skate out of
the head during pregame introductions. ... The Blues scratched
Scott Mellanby, who also sat out their regular-season finale. ...
Three other Sharks also made their playoff debuts: Jonathan
Cheechoo, Nils Ekman and rookie Tom Preissing.