Sharks, Senators Take 2-1 Series Leads

Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 7:34 am
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ The Sharks shuffled their lines and upped their intensity midway through the game, yet they owed their Game 3 comeback against the Detroit Red Wings to one constant factor in this postseason.

No matter the opponent or the situation, Joe Thornton has erased his reputation as a playoff underachiever.

Jonathan Cheechoo scored a power-play goal with 6:21 to play, and Thornton made life miserable for the Red Wings, leading the Sharks from behind for a 2-1 victory Monday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference series.

Though Thornton added only one assist to his team-high 10 points in the postseason, the fingerprints _ and the occasional fist prints _ of the NHL's second-leading scorer were all over a gutsy victory.

``Joe was by far the best player on the ice,'' Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. ``There's no room out there for anybody _ them or us. It's a great battle, and fun to be a part of. ... Sometimes it takes half a game to figure out how you're going to crack the other team.''

In the only other playoff game Monday night, Ottawa shut out New Jersey 2-0 to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

San Jose floundered in the first 30 minutes after struggling through the final two periods of a Game 2 loss. The Red Wings seemed to be on the verge of turning the series _ but the Sharks came alive midway through the second period when Ryane Clowe capitalized on Thornton's efforts for the tying goal.

Thornton and his ever-changing linemates then kept up the pressure, and Cheechoo's patient, dangling goal put the Sharks halfway to the Western Conference finals.

Game 4 is Wednesday night in San Jose, with Game 5 back in Joe Louis Arena on Saturday.

Evgeni Nabokov made 29 saves in another standout effort for the Sharks, who are getting used to tight, well-played games between tested playoff foes. They eliminated a tough Nashville club in the first round with similar proficiency.

The Sharks got a spark when Wilson shook up his lines midway through the game, changing all four combinations on little more than hunches about who would play well together.

``We play with so many different lines during the regular season that it doesn't matter who we play with,'' said Thornton, whose lengthy shifts left him puffing when he finally got to the bench. ``We had just a couple of good shifts, and when you get two or three good shifts in a row, it boosts your bench.''

Captain Nicklas Lidstrom scored a power-play goal and Dominik Hasek stopped 25 shots for the top-seeded Red Wings, who acknowledged they lost the second half of the game by a narrow margin.

``They got a lot of pressure, and we were almost standing around,'' said Lidstrom, who hadn't found the net since the first two games of the Red Wings' first-round series against Calgary.

``When they get momentum like they did, we have to play stronger defense. I thought we were guilty of taking penalties. It's tough to keep our lines going when we're taking a lot of penalties.''

The Sharks tied it with their first sustained pressure with 7 1/2 minutes left in the second period. Thornton cycled the puck until it got to Matt Carle for a shot, and Clowe then flicked the rebound into a small space between Hasek's glove and pads for his fourth goal of a breakout postseason.

``Once they scored, they were better than us at that point,'' Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. ``They flipped it in and beat us to the puck, and we turned it over more. It was a flip of the first 30 minutes. That's how I expect this series to go. It's going to continue to be a battle.''

And Thornton just kept wearing away on the Wings. His relentless pressure forced a Detroit penalty in the third period, and Kyle McLaren's slap shot rebounded directly to Cheechoo, who held the puck before flipping it past a sprawled Hasek.

Chris Chelios, who played another outstanding defensive game for the Red Wings, participated in his 237th playoff game, passing Mark Messier for second place in NHL history. Patrick Roy played in 247 postseason contests.

Senators 2, Devils 0

Ray Emery stopped 25 shots for his second playoff shutout and Tom Preissing scored 4:46 into the third period, leading Ottawa over visiting New Jersey in Game 3 of their playoff series.

Emery, who clinched Ottawa's first round win with a shutout over Pittsburgh, outdueled Martin Brodeur as the Senators took a 2-1 lead in the second-round series.

Preissing beat Brodeur with a high shot from a tight angle in front of the right boards for the game's first goal. Jason Spezza scored into an empty net at 19:04.