DENVER (AP) _ The San Jose Sharks were loose and confident after opening with three straight wins against the Colorado Avalanche.
Two overtime losses later and the Sharks are squeezing their sticks a little tighter.
``We have to win it as soon as possible,'' Sharks center Alyn McCauley said. ``Give them credit for coming back and winning two games, but ... we have to get it done in Colorado.''
San Jose seemed to be cruising to its first trip to the conference finals after winning the series' first three games by a combined score of 10-3. The Sharks controlled the flow through the neutral zone, their top line was scoring from all angles and Evgeni Nabokov turned away seemingly every shot the Avalanche sent his way.
But San Jose hasn't been a very good front-runner.
Instead of pressuring Colorado and trying to put the series away, the Sharks have been tentative on offense and sloppy in their own end. San Jose lost Game 4 after Mike Rathje couldn't handle a puck out of the corner, then blew a 1-0 lead in the third period of Game 5 by sitting back and letting the Avalanche skate freely into the offensive zone.
Nabokov has been superb throughout the playoffs, but even he's going to crack when a talented team like Colorado gets so many good chances.
``We didn't play the way we should have in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs,'' Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren said. ``We don't usually sit back and wait for other teams to do things. It's very surprising, but it happens, and we can't look back, we can't hang our heads.''
But the Sharks have given Colorado the last thing they wanted the Avalanche to have: confidence.
Colorado beat the Sharks 1-0 in Game 4, followed that with Saturday's 2-1 victory in San Jose and can even the series at home on Tuesday.
Now it's starting to feel a whole lot like 2002, when the Avalanche won two one-goal games to rally from a 3-2 series deficit and deny the Sharks a trip to the conference finals. Colorado still needs two more wins to become the third team to win a series after trailing 3-0, but the pressure is starting to shift.
``Like I said after Game 4, if we could win this one, it puts a lot of pressure on them,'' Avalanche captain Joe Sakic said. ``Our building's going to be pretty loud. It's going to be exciting to play Game 6 and hopefully we can get the same results.''
They might if their best players keep it up.
After two mediocre games to start the series, goalie David Aebischer has given the Avalanche the kind of games they used to expect out of Patrick Roy.
He's been positionally sound and spectacular when needed to shift the goalie matchup in Colorado's favor. Aebischer has allowed two goals in three games and looked a lot like Roy did in 2001, when he allowed three goals the final four games to help the Avalanche beat Los Angeles in seven games.
Sakic has added to his reputation as a clutch scorer, scoring the winners in both games to match Maurice Richard's NHL record of seven overtime playoff goals.
Peter Forsberg has dished out some punishment of his own after being frustrated by the Sharks' physical approach early in the series, and had a nifty, no-look pass to set up Sakic's second goal in Game 5.
The Avalanche have the momentum and their sights set on making history.
``Everybody in here is confident we can do it,'' Aebischer said. ``We're just going to have to do the same things we did the last two games _ work hard. That's pretty much all we can do.''