Evgeni Nabokov made 20 saves in his seventh shutout and then stopped all three Colorado attempts in the shootout, carrying the San Jose Sharks two points closer to the Presidents' Trophy with a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on Tuesday night.
Joe Pavelski scored the only goal during the first round of the shootout for the Sharks, who moved five points ahead of Boston for the NHL's best record. San Jose also clinched a share of its first Western Conference championship by taking a six-point lead over Detroit, although the Red Wings still have a shot at home-ice advantage.
Peter Budaj stopped 30 shots in his second shutout for the Avalanche, missing only Pavelski's low shot to his stick side. The Avalanche have lost nine of 10, but only Nabokov prevented last-place Colorado from knocking off the uninspired Sharks.
With just three games remaining, all against the conference's three worst teams, the Sharks seem to be in position to lock up the sport's biggest regular-season honors - but the first of those games wasn't encouraging, except in net.
Nabokov looked sharp after taking a rare day off last Sunday in Anaheim, but his teammates failed to score a power-play goal for the first time in 12 games. San Jose also struggled at the Tank for the second straight outing, yet still improved the league's best home record to 32-4-4, also sweeping its four-game series with Colorado.
San Jose has a franchise-record 117 points, five more than the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins after Boston's 3-2 loss at Ottawa. The Sharks also lead Detroit, which has 111 points, for the top seed in the West.
San Jose wasn't in position to clinch anything with a win over Colorado - and the Sharks played like it. Boston still is in the running for the Presidents' Trophy with a game in hand on the Sharks, while Detroit would win a theoretical tiebreaker with San Jose on total victories if the clubs end up tied.
The Sharks' playoff push didn't get much of a boost with the return of veteran forwards Mike Grier and Claude Lemieux, out since March 3 with injuries, missing 18 games apiece.
Grier, the penalty-killing specialist on the third line, had an injured knee, while the 43-year-old Lemieux had an injured jaw. They're the latest of several injured Sharks planning to return before the playoffs, with captain Patrick Marleau and high-scoring forward Ryane Clowe also expected to come off the shelf this week.
The first period was largely lifeless, with San Jose failing to get a shot until eight minutes in. Both clubs combined for just five shots.
The pace picked up in the final two periods, with San Jose launching 16 shots in the second, but the Avalanche had more solid scoring chances than San Jose. Nabokov turned all of them away, while Colorado also hit his posts at least twice.
San Jose got a golden opportunity when Cody McLeod committed an obvious slashing penalty with 1:09 left in regulation. But Budaj made a remarkable stop on Jeremy Roenick's point-blank chance in front of the net in the final minute, and the Sharks did nothing with their 4-on-3 advantage early in OT.
Mike Vernace tripped Christian Ehrhoff midway through overtime to give San Jose its fifth power play, but Budaj made a sprawling glove save against the post on Milan Michalek's best attempt with 40 seconds left.
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