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Nieminen's a hit in Game 1
Sharks take opener 2-1
5/7/06 - by Mike Lee

When Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson acquired Ville Nieminen back in March, the deal was supposed to bring one of those intangibles that San Jose was lacking. Nieminen's ability to stir things up and generate energy was something Wilson wanted more of for a potential run at a Stanley Cup. The Edmonton Oilers got to experience first hand how those intangibles equate to positives in the playoffs, as Nieminen helped guide the Sharks to a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semi-Final series on Sunday night.

Nieminen went after anything in a white jersey, disturbing Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish's game plan. Chris Pronger was an easy target, but Nieminen's wrath wasn't limited to the San Jose's public enemy number one. He landed 15 hits in the game, including one on Pronger with three seconds remaining in regulation that topped off his check-fest.

Patrick Marleau extended his playoff scoring streak to five games with a goal in the 1st period and an assist on Christian Ehrhoff's game winning goal in the 2nd period. Marleau helped turn a 1-0 deficit into a deadlocked game after Jaroslav Spacek openend the series with a power play goal just 2:33 into the contest.

Marleau rifled a one-timer past Dwayne Roloson after Steve Bernier set him up with a pass from the end boards. Milan Michalek swooped in along the right win boards, carrying the puck into the corner, before dishing to Bernier as an Oiler's defenseman barreled into him. Bernier continued along the end boards with the puck from right o left, before spotting Marleau in the slot.

"I like whatever brings the meat loaf to the table," he said with a grin when asked if he preferred hitting to scoring. "We noticed earlier in the playoffs that teams who had a little layoff looked flat, so the first thing in our minds was getting our legs moving. It was one of those games where you could do some hitting."

Nieminen provide a spark early in the 2nd period, by leveling Ryan Smyth with a shot that left the Oilers forward hobbling to the bench. San Jose would score moments later when Ehrhoff fired a shot past Roloson from 30 feet out after Michalek softened up the Oilers goaltender with a series of shots from down low.

Roloson made the save of the game several minutes later when Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo almost hooked up on a bang-bang play in front of the Edmonton net.

Untimely penalties provided numerous opportunities for the Oilers to get back into the game, but the Sharks penalty kill adjusted quickly to MacTavish's special teams game plan.

"They made it difficult the last couple of minutes," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "We managed to weather the storm, and I'm happy with our effort. ... We just wanted to establish a forecheck. (Hitting) got contagious, the way our crowd was responding to every hit, and we just built off that."

San Jose actually out shot the Oilers 12-5 in the 3rd period, but hooking penalty to Grant Stevenson and a questionable tripping penalty on Thornton left the Sharks in a couple of precarious situations.

Vesa Toskala's workload was light in comparison to Roloson's, but his 15 saves held up. The lone goal came on a power play after rookie defenseman Matt Carle was whistled for hooking in the game's opening minue.

Spacek staked the Oilers to an early lead with a one-timer from the right dot, after Ales Hemsky sent a cross-ice pass through the slot.

Edmonton failed to generate many scoring opportunities, mainly in part to San Jose's steady stream of hitting in the Oilers zone.

"You could tell in the second period, we're on our heels," center Michael Peca said. "We didn't really accomplish much. We weren't aggressive in our game. They forecheck so much."

The aggressive forecheck kept any shots from testing Toskala in the 3rd period until the seven minute mark.

"We were standing still at the blue line a lot," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "I don't know whether it was tough for our team to change the mentality (from the first round). I was really happy with our start, but they took it to us physically in the second period."

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1 2 3 T
EDM 1 0 0 1
SJ 1 1 0 2
1st period - 1, Edmonton, Spacek 3 (Hemsky, Samsonov), 2:33, (pp). 2, San Jose, Marleau 8 (Bernier, Michalek), 7:42.
2nd period - 3, San Jose, Ehrhoff 1 (Marleau, Michalek), 3:14.
3rd period - None.
1st period - Carle, SJS (hooking), 0:55; Roloson, EDM, served by Samsonov (holding), 12:31; Ehrhoff, SJS (tripping), 12:55; Smith, EDM (holding), 19:14.
2nd period - Stoll, EDM (hooking), 4:16; Hannan, SJS (holding), 12:51; Samsonov, EDM (hooking), 17:46.
3rd period - Spacek, EDM (hooking), 1:37; Stevenson, SJS (hooking), 4:43; Thornton, SJS (tripping), 10:48.
  Shots Saves
EDM - Roloson 30 28
SJ - Toskala 16 15
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
EDM 9 2 5 16
SJ 9 9 12 30
Power Play Conversion
EDM 1 of 5
SJ 0 of 5
3 Stars of the Game
Ville Nieminen
Milan Michalek
Patrick Marleau
Referees: Dave Jackson, Brad Watson. Linesmen: Dan Schachte, Derek Amell.

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