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Avs Won’t Take Shark’s Bait

April 20, 1999

DENVER (AP) _ Swimming in Shark-infested waters is dangerous enough. Taking the bait could be fatal.

With memories of last year’s ignominious first-round playoff exit still fresh in their minds, the Colorado Avalanche are refusing to be drawn into a war of words with this year’s first-round opponent, the San Jose Sharks.

While preparing for Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Wednesday night, the Avalanche shrugged off inflammatory comments by San Jose captain Owen Nolan, who once played alongside many of the current Colorado players.

``We definitely have more character on this team,″ Nolan said. ``They have two solid lines, maybe the top two lines in the league. After that, they don’t have anything.″

Then Nolan took a shot at Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy, saying, ``He’s either unbeatable or things just go flying by. He’s never medium. He’s either on top of his game or lets in the weakest goals. If you get him off his game, he lets in some weird goals. If you get him rattled early, he feels like he has to do more.″

It amounted to strong bulletin-board material for the Avalanche, but Colorado declined to reciprocate.

``I’ll be very clear for the playoffs,″ Colorado coach Bob Hartley said Tuesday. ``We want to focus on our team.″

Pressed about the Nolan comments, Hartley said, ``Please move on, ask another question. We’re focusing on our team. We will not get involved in that stuff.″

Even Roy, who typically delights in exchanging barbs with the opposition, was tight-lipped.

``I don’t want to get involved in that,″ Roy said. ``What I want to do is focus on what I have to do and play as well as I can.

``I know if my focus and concentration level is good, I am going to have some success and I will have a better chance to do well. That’s what I want to concentrate on and not worry about the outside.″

Colorado wing Claude Lemieux, one of the NHL’s most notorious agitators, also brushed off Nolan’s words.

``That’s playoff hockey,″ he said. ``A lot of things are said and talked about in the press. But as far as we’re concerned, you’ve just got to play your game. Name-calling or whatever you want to call it _ we’re not going to get involved in that.″

Sharks coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t fault one of his players for trying to inject some emotion into the series.

``It’s good,″ he said. ``Who is clearly the best team? It’s Colorado. Owen has played here and I’m sure he’s excited. He will come out with that intensity.

``We’re going against a great team and we can’t have any average performances. We’re all going to have to play, as individuals and as a team, our best hockey of the year.″

Colorado won the regular-season series 3-1, outscoring the Sharks 13-6. But as Sutter noted, ``All that stuff goes out the window now. We played well down the stretch, but I don’t think that has a bearing on the playoffs either.″

The Avalanche also finished strong, going 7-2-1 in the last 10 games. Colorado clinched the Northwest Division title on March 28 and wound up as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a 44-28-10 record.

Only nine players in the NHL had at least 90 points during the regular season and Colorado has three of them. Peter Forsberg was fourth in the league with 97 points (30 goals, 67 assists), and Joe Sakic was fifth with 96 (41, 55). The Avs added more firepower on Feb. 28 when they acquired Theo Fleury, who had 93 points (40, 53).

Being one of the favorites in the postseason doesn’t ensure success, as the Avalanche found out last year in bowing to Edmonton in the first round.

``I don’t think we took Edmonton seriously,″ Roy said. ``There were other circumstances and one of them was playing in the Olympics. We don’t have that excuse now. We have no reason not to be ready for this series. We learned that from last year, and we know that San Jose has a very good hockey team.″

San Jose (31-33-18) clinched a playoff berth on April 6, the earliest ever in a full season.

Veteran goalie Mike Vernon, who has two Stanley Cup rings, has been the Sharks’ regular goalie, but Steve Shields played better late in the season. Sutter has been vague about who will start Wednesday night.

``It’s not a real huge issue,″ Sutter said. ``I think it’s a real good situation to have.″

With the second game on Thursday night here, Sutter might alternate goalies.

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