Updated 3:10 AM ET May 3, 2000
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- San Jose coach Darryl Sutter is tired of talking
up Owen Nolan. As team captain, he is expected to lead, hit, inspire,
instigate and produce on one leg if the situation calls for it, and
it did Tuesday night.
After sitting out Sunday's 1-0 loss to Dallas with assorted aches and
pains and watching his team fall behind 2-0 in the semifinals of the
Western Conference, Nolan knew he had to find a way to play. His mere
presence, even limited, does wonders for his teammates.
Nolan made it through the morning skate, but didn't decide to play
until pre-game warm-ups. Admittedly less than 100 percent, Nolan
worked a team-high 26 shifts and scored the game-winning goal as the
Sharks got themselves back in the hunt with a 2-1 victory.
Since Sutter hates to heap too much praise on an individual,
rightfully insisting the Sharks need a total team effort to beat a
talented unit like the defending Stanley Cup-champion Stars, we'll
let his players do the complimenting. Bottom line: San Jose doesn't
win without Nolan.
"He's carried us all year,'' said defenseman Gary Suter. "It was a
huge lift getting him back.''
Said center Mike Ricci, "He's our leader. We expected nothing less of
And this from center Vincent Damphousse, who assisted Nolan's game-
winner: "I don't think he was (healthy), but he played with a lot of
That grit, determination and toughness rubbed off on the young
Sharks. After falling behind 1-0 on a first period power play goal,
they could have panicked or self-destructed, especially the way
Dallas goalie Ed Belfour was playing. In a word, he was brilliant.
Coming into Game 3, Belfour had stopped 37 consecutive shots and was
only the third goalie since 1984 to open the playoffs with two
consecutive shutouts. The others were Mike Richter of the New York
Rangers in 1994 and Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in 1995,
both sparking their teams to Stanley Cups.
How stingy had Belfour been? He hadn't surrendered a goal for nearly
139 minutes and turned back 12 first period shots, 11 in the first 15
minutes. Saying the Sharks were frustrated was an understatement.
They were a combined 0 of 11 in power plays in the first two games
and failed on three first period chances.
Of course, Belfour has received stout defense from Derian Hatcher,
Richard Matvichuk, Sergei Zubov and Darryl Sydor. Given how well they
had played, it wasn't a stretch to think the 1-0 cushion might stand
Then, momentum swung in the second period. Dallas sabotaged Belfour
with a pair of penalties to give San Jose a 5 on 3 advantage for 52
seconds. It proved the Stars' undoing as Ricci tipped a Suter shot
past Belfour to tie the game, snapping his scoreless streak at seven-
plus periods, a span covering 164:35.
"It was a huge relief,'' Suter said. "It was tough to solve him.''
The breakthrough energized the crowd, which crucified Belfour, and
also jump-started the Sharks, who continued to pressure him. When
Nolan re-directed a Damphousse pass with a one-hander past Belfour,
San Jose Arena erupted.
The locals are still steamed at Belfour for desertion in 1997. After
acquiring him from Chicago late in the season, the last-place Sharks
hoped to rebuild their franchise around the unrestricted free agent.
Only Belfour didn't stick around. Hampered by injuries, he appeared
in only 13 games, skipped town and quickly signed with Dallas.
Not that you could blame him. Belfour might use poor judgment when it
comes to cops, but he knew San Jose was a long-term project and
wanted a shot at another Stanley Cup, having helped the Blackhawks
reach the finals in 1992. He did just that, leading Dallas to the
title last year.
Belfour knew he would get an earful when he took the ice Tuesday
night and he did, chants of BELL-four echoing throughout the Shark
Tank. The hecklers even dogged him during the National Anthem,
shouting insults from start to finish.
Two years ago in a first-round playoff series, the Stars came into
San Jose with a 2-0 lead and dropped two in a row to the Sharks.
Dallas regrouped for a 4-2 series victory, but the spectators took
heart with Belfour's past struggles and hoped history would repeat.
If anyone could get to Belfour, it was Nolan, who scored six goals
and added two assists to key the quarterfinal upset over top-seeded
St. Louis. Never mind that he probably shouldn't have left the bench
and might have trouble getting out of bed Wednesday.
"I felt good enough to get something out of it,'' Nolan said,
presumably referring to his body. "I'm still sore.''
Is there any part of his anatomy that doesn't hurt?
"The bottom of my right foot,'' he said.
Needless to say, Ricci's goal changed the complexion of the game.
"We felt we probably deserved a couple in Dallas,'' said Nolan. "We
just couldn't beat him. It took a chip off our shoulder.''
While Belfour stopped 26 of 28 shots, counterpart Steve Shields saved
30 of 31, including second period breakaways by Mike Modano and
Matvichuk. Without his effort, the Sharks might be facing elimination
Friday night, which pretty much proves Sutter's point.
Instead, confidence and hope have been restored, although San Jose
still has an uphill climb. If nothing else, at least Belfour isn't
"This one was a must for us,'' said Damphousse. "We played
desperate.'' The captain, in particular.