Sharks draw first blood in playoff series with Blues

Friday, April 9, 2004

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Niko Dimitrakos got quite a souvenir from his first NHL playoff game.

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 also won a duel with Blues goalie Chris Osgood, a former Stanley Cup winner who stopped 28 shots.

Dimitrakos, whose energetic play was an overlooked factor in the Sharks' resurgence this season, ended the scoreless game by faking Osgood a few inches out of position, then firing the puck over the St. Louis goalie's glove. The rookie winger's teammates mobbed him near the glass as the sellout crowd celebrated San Jose's win.

Game 2 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.

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.

The goalies have dueled before: In the teams' last meeting on Feb. 29, Nabokov and the Sharks beat the Blues 1-0.

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, keeping the game scoreless.

St. Louis took control in the second period by amplifying its physical play. The Sharks survived, even killing a four-minute power play when Dimitrakos was called for high-sticking.

Nabokov remained sharp in the third, kicking aside a point-blank scoring chance for Doug Weight. The Sharks had a power play for the final two minutes of regulation, but couldn't get a decent chance.

St. Louis went scoreless on five power plays in regulation, while San Jose failed on four tries.

Notes: The Blues are in the playoffs for the 25th straight season, extending the longest current streak in major pro sports record. St. Louis hasn't reached the Stanley Cup finals in that stretch, however. ... The Sharks had an inauspicious start when Vincent Damphousse tripped over the teeth on the Sharks' oversized shark head. The Sharks 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.

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