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Sharks' one goal enough to claim Game 1 thriller

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  • Sharks' one goal enough to claim Game 1 thriller

    The Sharks skated much of Thursday night as if they had the wind at their backs. But when it came to putting the puck in the net, they were spitting into that wind.

    Then rookie Niko Dimitrakos struck at 9:16 of overtime, firing a shot past goalie Chris Osgood to lift the Sharks to a 1-0 victory over St. Louis in Game 1 of their Western Conference opening-round series at HP Pavilion.

    Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov recorded his second career playoff shutout by stopping 26 shots. Both have been 1-0 wins over the Blues.

    The Sharks had lost their previous five overtime games in the playoffs, including four at home. Their last overtime victory in the playoffs was in 1998 in Game 4 of the first round against Dallas when rookie defenseman Andrei Zyuzin connected.

    ``I couldn't have dreamed this up any better,'' Dimitrakos said. ``A chance to play in a playoff game first of all. Then to get a few shifts in overtime as a rookie. Then to put the puck in, it's unbelievable.''

    A shout from teammate Vincent Damphousse in the neutral zone was a key element.

    Damphousse had hit the puck with his glove. He realized that if Dimitrakos played the puck, the play would have been whistled dead for a hand pass.

    ``I could hear Vinnie screaming: `Don't touch it! Hand pass! I got it!' '' Sharks Coach Ron Wilson said.

    Dimitrakos obeyed his elder. None of the Blues touched the puck, either.

    ``They eased up a little,'' Damphousse said.

    So Damphousse reached in.

    ``I was able to get a stick on it and keep the play going,'' Damphousse said.

    As Damphousse advanced the puck into the Blues' zone, he worked it off the boards to Dimitrakos on the right side. Dimitrakos noticed Patrick Marleau filling a lane on the opposite wing.

    ``I knew Patty was going to the back post and I knew that Osgood knew that, so I just wanted to make a little play to the middle and get some room to shoot it,'' Dimitrakos said.

    From the bottom of the right circle, he shot it over the right shoulder of Osgood, who stopped the previous 28 shots, including 11 in the first period when the Sharks were swarming.

    Dimitrakos is the fourth Shark to score an overtime goal in the playoffs, joining Zyuzin, Ulf Dahlen and Ray Whitney.

    Dimitrakos had to sweat it out in the penalty box midway through the second after receiving a double-minor for high-sticking Mike Danton.

    ``I was a little nervous, but the guys bailed me out like they usually do,'' he said.

    The Sharks were nearly burned a couple of minutes earlier in overtime when Keith Tkachuk led a two-on-one rush for the Blues.

    ``But he missed the net by about five feet; I was holding my breath on that one,'' Wilson said. ``He's the last guy I want to see barreling down the wing with an opportunity to win it in overtime.''

    The Sharks had a golden opportunity to avoid overtime. They went on the power play at 18:59 of the third when referee Kerry Fraser whistled Tkachuk for interfering with Jonathan Cheechoo in the neutral zone.

    The Sharks peppered Osgood with some quality chances, but as the case had been all night, they failed to convert solid rebound opportunities.

    In the first period, aside from the disquieting aspect of being scoreless, the Sharks had virtually everything go their way.

    They ambushed the Blues with speed and built an 11-6 shots advantage after the first 20 minutes.

    Less than 20 seconds into the match, Osgood stopped Jason Marshall's shot from the right point but lost sight of the rebound. Cheechoo located the stationary puck and slid head-first to jab it into the exposed net but came up empty.

    ``Exactly what we wanted, but on the other hand it was exactly what I feared: that we'd come out and empty the tank in the first 10 minutes,'' Wilson said. ``Five on five, we played really well defensively.''

    Contact Victor Chi at [email protected] or (408) 920-5720.


    Mr. G