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Original Issue

Just In Time Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's playoff revival has saved the Sharks in some tight spots

Last month goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was among a handful of Sharks
called to the stand in the trial of a San Jose judge convicted of
fixing traffic tickets for friends and local luminaries. The
players testified that they gave citations--including three
issued to Nabokov--to a member of the team's security staff, who
forwarded them to the judge for dismissal. Brushes with Silicon
Valley police aside, Nabokov doesn't often feel the heat of red
lights flashing behind him. The 28-year-old's return to
prominence after an awful 2002-03 season is the main reason the
Sharks, who held a three-games-to-two lead in their second-round
series with the Avalanche after a 2-1 loss last Saturday, were
one win from the Western Conference finals. Nabokov allowed two
goals or fewer in eight of San Jose's first 10 playoff games and
was nearly impenetrable in the first five matches against potent
Colorado: The Avalanche had a total of six goals and went 178:14,
nearly three games, without scoring. "There's no other way to say
it," Sharks center Vincent Damphousse said after Nabokov made 33
saves in a 1-0 win in Game 3. "Nabby stole the game for us."

Entering the season Nabokov owed his team a few wins. After
earning the Calder Trophy in 2000-01 and winning a team-record 37
games the next year, he missed all of '02 training camp in a
contract dispute. The club grudgingly gave him a two-year, $7.1
million deal in late October of that year, but he never got
comfortable in net. His goals-against average went from 2.29 in
'01-02 to an abysmal 2.71, and San Jose, the early Stanley Cup
favorite, finished next to last in the conference.

This season Nabokov was slowed by a groin injury in November and
endured a bad three-week slump in March, during which he was
pulled twice in three games. But in the playoffs Nabokov has
played every minute and has been the warmest security blanket
west of Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin. Perhaps too warm: After
taking a 1-0 lead early in Game 5, the Sharks sat back and played
as if they were content to let Nabokov snatch another win for
them. He nearly did, stopping two breakaways and standing tall
during a second period in which San Jose was outshot 11-2. It
took a brilliant no-look feed from Peter Forsberg to Joe Sakic to
beat him in OT. "We can't wait for Nabby to make the big save all
the time," said Sharks winger Niko Dimitrakos. "We don't want to
leave him out to dry."

That would be no way for the Sharks to take care of their ticket
to postseason success.

--Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: MERI SIMON/SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS/ABACA STOP, THIEF! With a shutout streak that lasted nearly three fullgames, Nabokov was stealing wins against the Avalanche.