DENVER (AP) -Claude Lemieux might be viewed as a villain in other venues.
Not here, though. Not in the city where he helped bring a Stanley Cup title.
The 43-year-old Lemieux received a hardy ovation before helping his new team, the San Jose Sharks, to a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
"There's plenty of places I can get booed," he said, grinning. "This is a special place to me and I always love and still spend a lot of time in Colorado."
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 31 shots for his 43rd career shutout and Milan Michalek scored two goals as the Western Conference-leading Sharks won for the sixth time in seven games.
Lemieux helped the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup title in 1996 and remains a fan favorite, his familiar Avalanche sweater popping up around the arena.
He left the league after the 2003 playoffs with Dallas, but started a comeback with the Sharks' minor-league affiliate nearly two months ago. He was recalled to San Jose last week.
Known for his vicious hits, Lemieux was rather tame on Tuesday in his second game for San Jose. He checked Darcy Tucker into the boards and had a bump on Jordan Leopold, but that's about it.
|THORNTON PLAYS 800th GAME
Sharks center Joe Thornton celebrated his 800th career game with an assist on Patrick Marleau’s empty net goal in the final minute. With that assist, Thornton has posted 812 points (252 goals, 560 assists) in 800 games. Since being traded to San Jose, Thornton has played in all 268 games, posting an astonishing 358 points (83 goals, 275 assists).
WEDNESDAY’S PRACTICE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC
Due to a change in the team’s schedule, the Sharks will not be practicing at Sharks Ice at San Jose on Wednesday as planned. Instead the Sharks will skate at HP Pavilion at San Jose, meaning tomorrow’s practice session will be closed to the public.
The Sharks return home from their brief one-game road trip to face the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night at HP Pavilion. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) and will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area in HD, KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.
His reputation, though, caused the Avalanche to skate with their heads up, cognizant of where he was at all times during his 9 1-2 minutes of ice time.
"He will finish checks, that's for sure," Milan Hejduk said. "It's an incredible story, his coming back. What a story."
When Hejduk was starting his NHL career, he was shown the ropes by Lemieux.
For that, Hejduk is eternally grateful.
"I spent some quality time with him," Hejduk said. "What a great guy."
Not many say that - especially in Detroit - about a player who built his reputation around being an agitator.
But he can't change his ways, not this late.
"I don't think he'll stick around if he tries to be fancy," Colorado's Ian Laperriere said. "That's one guy that knows how to win."
So, what motivated Lemieux to return to the league?
"It's fun," Lemieux said.
Nabokov had a good time turning in his third shutout of the season. He made several sensational saves, including one by the seat of his pants in the first period, thwarting Ryan Smyth's potential score by landing on top of the puck as Nabokov slowly drifted inside the net.
However, the puck never crossed the line, just a sprawled out Nabokov. The play was reviewed and the ruling of no goal upheld.
Avalanche coach Tony Granato won't quibble with the call. Nabokov has made too many exceptional saves in his career to question one.
"The one thing you have to realize about him, if you've watched him play over the years, he never gives up on a play," Granato said. "He pulls a save like that out quite a bit. You think you're on the scoreboard and he finds a way to stay with it and make an incredible play."
Smyth later crashed into the rear of the net, knocking the goal off its moorings and right onto Nabokov's back.
Even that didn't rattle Nabokov in his first game since the All-Star break.
"After five days off you don't know exactly where you will be, you don't know exactly what to expect from the home team," Nabokov said. "But we know what we expect from ourselves. Maybe it wasn't a perfect game, but it was a disciplined game and a smart game."
Although he's playing on the fourth line, Lemieux couldn't be more pleased with his position.
"I take pride in whatever role's going to be assigned to me," he said. "I have the best seat in the house. You can't buy that seat; you have to earn it."
When Laperriere heard that Lemieux was attempting a comeback, he was skeptical.
Now, he's impressed.
"I'll give him all the credit in the world," said Laperriere, who returned after missing eight games with a back injury. "He put out the effort to get here."
Will Laperriere be playing hockey at 43?
"I'll be playing, but not in the NHL - with my kids," the 35-year-old Laperriere responded.
The Avalanche are in the midst of an eight-game homestand, but have lost three of four to begin the stretch. ... Colorado F David Jones made his return from a back injury, only to leave again in the second period with a shoulder ailment. ... San Jose recalled defensemen Derek Joslin and Mike Moore from the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League. ... Sharks C Patrick Marleau scored an empty-net goal with 37.2 seconds remaining. ... Sharks C Joe Thornton played his 800th game.
THEY SAID IT
“Well that is (Ryan Smyth’s) style and I pretty muck knew what to expect from him. He’s probably one of the best around the crease. That’s what he’s known for. It was a great battle. I thought our defense did a great job by helping me on the rebounds and when the puck was free.
“When you don’t play for so many days, you don’t want to put yourself shorthanded too many times. I thought we did a great job when we had to kill penalties. Discipline is always the key to team success, especially when you’re on the road.
“Let’s be honest, a couple of times I got lucky out there, but that’s what the game’s about. Sometimes you have to get lucky to get a win or a shutout. I think a couple of times today I was lucky. But again, I think we were working pretty hard around the net to get those lucky bounces.”
- Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks Goaltender
“We as a group, not just necessarily the coach, are very pleased with (Nabokov’s) effort. He made a number of great saves. It certainly allowed us to have a little more confidence when they were in our end. They’re a very good cycle team, east-west cycling behind the net. No matter how well you play, they’re still going to get a number of chances and Nabby was tremendous.
“Well (Milan Michalek) scored two goals but what I remember is him coming back on the 3-on-2. Milan can skate with anybody in the league. He may be one of the best skaters in the league. That was a combination of his talent and his will to get back in that situation. I thought Milan and Pav and Clowey were our best line most of the night and it was nice to see him rewarded with a couple of goals. He always seems to play well in this building.”
- Todd McLellan, Sharks Head Coach