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Last-minute goal helps Avs shock Sharks

Chris Stewart's shot deflected off San Jose defender Rob Blake's skate and into the net with 50 seconds left in regulation to give the Colorado Avalanche a 2-1 victory Wednesday night in the opener of the first-round series.

The loss was just the latest playoff disappointment for the Sharks, who have made a bad habit of following up stellar regular seasons with early postseason exits. San Jose has lost Game 1 at home in its past four playoff series.

This was especially shocking, considering it came against an eighth-seeded Avalanche team that had the worst record in the Western Conference a year ago.

But with a second-period goal by John-Michael Liles, 25 saves from playoff novice Craig Anderson and a fortunate bounce off the skate of one of its former star players in Blake, the Avalanche are off to a roaring playoff start.

After a flat second period, the Sharks tied it midway through the third when Ryane Clowe's bad-angle shot from the boards got through a screen by Joe Pavelski and beat Anderson. But instead of reversing San Jose's playoff fortunes, it only delayed the inevitable disappointment.

Stewart, another of Colorado's 10 playoff newcomers in the lineup, fired a shot in the corner in front of the net. The puck hit off Blake's skate and past a helpless Evgeni Nabokov. Perhaps it was fitting that it was Blake who deflected in the winner, considering he spent five seasons with the Avalanche, winning the Stanley Cup in 2001.

The Sharks were greeted in introductions by a frenzied, towel-waving crowd, hoping the team had put its past playoff failures in the past. Despite having the second most points in the league the past five seasons, San Jose has failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs in that span.

The biggest disappointment came last season when the Sharks fell in the first round to Anaheim despite having the best record in the league in the regular season. San Jose lost the opener of that series 2-0.

Most of the Avalanche players had no playoff failures to burden them or success to fall back on. Half of Avs in the lineup made their postseason debut Wednesday night. But they looked like playoff veterans in the second half of the second period, when they dominated the play from end to end. After failing to get a shot on goal in the first 9 minutes of the second, Colorado outshot San Jose 12-2 in the final 11.

The Avalanche earned two power plays with their aggressive play, converting on the first chance when Liles shot from the point went through traffic and beat Nabokov for the first goal of the series.

Colorado did not fold after Clowe's equalizer and will try to take a 2-0 lead back home by winning game 2 on Friday night in San Jose.

The Sharks wanted to get off to a fast start to silence the questions about their playoff prowess and to prevent all those postseason novices from Colorado from finding their legs. It looked as if that was just what would happen when Stewart was called for hooking in the offensive zone just 28 seconds into the game.

San Jose put good pressure on Anderson, getting six shots on goal during the power play, but was unable to get any through. Dany Heatley hit a post just after the power play ended.

There was good action at both ends for the rest of the period. Darcy Tucker was unable to get a shot off for Colorado when he couldn't handle a pass from Paul Stastny on a two-on-one and Stastny hit a post late in the period.

The Sharks best scoring chance came after T.J. Galiardi went down behind the play when he didn't the call after being hit in the face by a stick. Devin Setoguchi slid a backhand wide of a mostly empty net.