Work in Sports
DALLAS (Ticker) -- Ed Belfour never let the San Jose Sharks think about another upset.
The Dallas Stars advanced to the Western Conference finals for the third straight year as Belfour made 32 saves in a 4-1 victory that closed out the Sharks in five games.
San Jose had to win at least one game in Dallas if it hoped to duplicate its stunning first-round upset of top-seeded St. Louis. But the Sharks did not get a puck past Belfour at Reunion Arena until midway through the third period of this game and fell to 0-3 all-time in second-round series.
"When you're a seventh seed, you know you're going to face some great goaltenders," San Jose left wing Jeff Friesen said. "That's not making any excuses, that's just the reality of the playoffs, especially given the goalies in the top four of our conference. And Belfour did an outstanding job for them and came up big when he had to."
Belfour recorded back-to-back shutouts to open this conference semifinal, then extended his home scoreless streak in the series to 168 minutes, 32 seconds before yielding a power-play goal to Patrick Marleau.
By then, the defending Stanley Cup champions had forged a 4-0 lead on first-period goals by Joe Nieuwendyk and Scott Thornton and third-period power-play tallies by Brett Hull and Sylvain Cote.
"I'm definitely feeling a lot better as the playoffs go along," Belfour said. "I try to improve with every game. And tonight, I felt I saw the puck very well. But I also got a lot of help from my defensemen, who did an outstanding job of clearing rebounds."
The Stars will face the Colorado Avalanche in a rematch of last year's Western Conference finals, beginning later this week in Dallas. Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix and coach Bob Hartley were among those in attendance tonight at Reunion Arena.
"I think everybody has been waiting for the rematch of last year," said Dallas center Mike Modano, whose eight-game points streak was snapped. "We're eight wins away, but we know we're going to have our hands full against an outstanding young team that is playing very well right now."
The Sharks' chances of extending the series appeared bleak with captain Owen Nolan and defenseman Bryan Marchment sidelined with injuries.
"It certainly hurts not to have Owen and Bryan in the lineup because they are obviously two big keys to our team," rookie defenseman Brad Stuart said. "But we knew they were not going to be in the game today and we prepared for that. So we cannot use that as an excuse."
San Jose quickly fell behind, 2-0, as Nieuwendyk and Thornton scored just over three minutes apart.
"We wanted to get a good start and I thought we did, at least for the first half of the first period," San Jose coach Darryl Sutter said. "Nieuwendyk made a great play to score a goal and then Thornton outmuscled our guy to make it 2-0. I think everybody in the league knows that when you get behind Dallas by two goals, it's very tough to come back."
Nieuwendyk got things started at 10:31 of the opening period with his fourth goal of the series and third in two games. The 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy winner squeezed past defenseman Mike Rathje at the San Jose blue line and veered to the net before sliding the puck under goaltender Steve Shields while being hooked to the ice by defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson.
"Those guys (on the top line) have logged a lot (of ice time) for a long time. Now we're starting to chip in and get some production," Nieuwendyk said. "I think I relaxed a little bit and started to play the way I think I can. I felt real good, energized."
Thornton doubled the lead at 13:34 with his second playoff goal.
With Marleau in pursuit, he came out from behind the net and scored on a wraparound at the left goalpost, chipping the puck over Shields' right shoulder.
Belfour came up big in the second period, when the Stars were outshot, 13-4. He moved from left to right and got help from 40-year-old Guy Carbonneau to cover the net during a power-play scramble with 9:25 remaining.
Two minutes later, Belfour got his right pad on Friesen's slap shot from the left faceoff circle. He stuffed Friesen again with 5:46 left in the second.
"Eddie Belfour played an extremely strong series," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He played especially well in the second period tonight. He focused a lot on the challenges he faced and he never wavered, even when he looked up and saw two men in the crease a lot of the time."
"Belfour made some tough saves in the second period, and that was pretty much that. I've seen Ed Belfour play very well before and he certainly looks very much in control now," he said.
Any chance of a San Jose comeback was thwarted by a pair of penalties early in the third period. Friesen went off for tripping at 2:20 and Ron Sutter followed him to the box 78 seconds later for slashing.
Hull made it 3-0 on the ensuing two-man advantage, banking a bad-angle rebound off Shields' right arm and into the net for his first goal of the series. Dallas was still on the power play 41 seconds later when Cote put a wrist shot from the top of the slot between the pads of a screened Shields.
"I've had an awful lot of chances in this series, and I was glad that one finally went in for me," Hull said. "To get that 3-0 lead was very big. We had been getting our chances on the power play all series, and we knew that sooner or later things were going to click for us."
Marleau's goal with 11:28 remaining avoided the Sharks' third shutout loss of the series. He crept in from the left circle and found room between Belfour's right leg and the near post.
Still, Belfour extended his postseason home winning streak to eight games and posted a 1.40 goals-against average in this series.