SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ From Patrick Marleau's opening goal to the final buzzer, the San Jose Sharks were a stride ahead _ and they knocked the Avalanche off their skates with an impressive victory.
Marleau had his second three-goal game of the postseason, and the Sharks scored three first-period goals in a 5-2 victory Thursday night over Colorado in the opener of their second-round playoff series.
The second-seeded Sharks are the underdogs against Colorado, a perennial Stanley Cup contender _ but San Jose's speed, depth and discipline still haven't been matched this season. The Sharks were led by the taciturn Marleau, whose biggest challenge of the night came from the overflowing pack of reporters and television cameras in the locker room.
``You want to work hard, and if the points come, great,'' the Sharks' 24-year-old captain said. ``But the most important thing is the team's winning. We try to come out of the gate pretty hard and get our game going. We used our speed to our advantage, get that extra step out there.''
Marleau took over the NHL's postseason goal-scoring lead during San Jose's relentless offensive performance for nearly two periods against a Colorado lineup loaded with prolific scorers and All-Stars.
He scored San Jose's opening goal and added two more in 94 seconds midway through the second, chasing shaky Colorado goalie David Aebischer.
``We need him to do that,'' said Vincent Damphousse, who scored a first-period goal. ``He's our leader, and he's stepping up in the playoffs. ... We showed tonight that we can play our team game against anybody. I think they'll come back with a much better game. I don't know if they were surprised by us or not.''
Scott Hannan also scored his first career playoff goal during the first period, which the Sharks dominated with a 79-44 goal advantage during the regular season. Rookie Niko Dimitrakos had three assists, and Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves.
Game 2 is Saturday in San Jose, with Game 3 in Denver on Monday.
Steve Konowalchuk and Peter Forsberg scored power-play goals for the Avalanche, who seemed surprised and overwhelmed by the Sharks' aggression. Colorado lowered itself to third-period goonery, starting several fights in the final two minutes _ and even worse, Aebischer struggled.
Aebischer, the Avalanche's surprising choice to replace retired Patrick Roy last fall, performed admirably during his first regular season as a starter. He also outplayed Dallas' Marty Turco in the first round _ but he allowed three terrible goals to the Sharks.
After Marleau completed his hat trick with 6:47 left in the second period, Aebischer was replaced by veteran Tommy Salo. Aebischer allowed five goals on 17 shots.
``The good thing about the playoffs, it's just one game,'' Aebischer said. ``You lose 1-0 or 5-2, it doesn't matter. You start 0-0 next game. ... They played better than us everywhere.''
Marleau got started midway through the first period, slipping unchecked into the slot for a pass from Jonathan Cheechoo. Forsberg appeared to be lost defensively on the play _ and 110 seconds later, Damphousse caught Adam Foote flat-footed, roaring past the star defenseman and beating Aebischer with a quick wrist shot.
The sellout crowd went crazy, and it got even louder when Hannan scored over a pile of players in front of the Avalanche net with 53 seconds left. Aebischer threw two hard punches at Alyn McCauley, who fell on top of the goalie after a check.
``We weren't ready to match their intensity,'' Colorado captain Joe Sakic said. ``They outplayed us. They won every matchup. They deserve everything they got. That wasn't our best effort.''
After Konowalchuk scored early in the second, Marleau responded with two quick goals _ the first on a two-on-one rush, and the capper on a power play.
Marleau set the franchise playoff record for the fastest two goals _ and the fastest three, as well. He had the first playoff hat trick of his career in the first round against St. Louis, and fans again covered the ice with hats.
Matthew Barnaby instigated one of three simultaneous fights that broke out with 1:35 to play. Barnaby, Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen and San Jose's Curtis Brown all got misconducts _ and Bob Boughner started yet another fight in the final second.