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Having already won four Stanley Cup titles, Claude Lemieux might be just what the San Jose Sharks need to secure the franchise's first championship.
The Colorado Avalanche are already quite familiar with what the veteran forward can do in the playoffs.
In their first game following the All-Star break, the Western Conference-leading Sharks continue their push for postseason success on Tuesday night, when they visit the Avalanche - one of the teams Lemieux has helped to a league crown.
Lemieux resumed his professional career in November by signing a contract with San Jose's AHL affiliate in Worcester. The 43-year-old was recalled from the minors last week, and played in the Sharks' final contest before the break, a 2-1 overtime victory over visiting Vancouver last Tuesday.
It was his first NHL game since May 5, 2003, during Dallas' second-round playoff series against Anaheim.
Lemieux has amassed 379 goals and 406 assists in 1,197 regular-season games, as well as 80 goals and 78 assists in 233 career playoff contests.
His overall success translated to Stanley Cup championships for Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995, 2000) and Colorado (1996).
With Lemieux's extensive resume, the Sharks hope to finally end their postseason woes. They've exited the playoffs in the second round each of the last three seasons, and advanced as far as the conference finals in 2003-04 before eventually being eliminated by Calgary.
San Jose (34-6-5) returns from the All-Star break in a very favorable position to make its fifth straight playoff appearance, currently leading the Pacific Division and owning a share of the NHL's best record with East-leading Boston.
"I think we need to, if we can, finish first. It definitely is an advantage," said Sharks All-Star defenseman Dan Boyle, who enjoyed home-ice advantage while helping Tampa Bay win the 2004 Stanley Cup.
Boyle's current team entered the break with five wins in six games, but he wasn't pleased with the Sharks' latest performance. Despite outshooting an opponent for the eighth time in nine contests last Tuesday, they didn't score until Devin Setoguchi notched his 21st goal with 40 seconds left in regulation.
All-Star center Joe Thornton set up both the tying and winning goals.
"Certainly we weren't happy with the effort for the first 2 1/2 periods," Boyle said. "In the last five minutes, we were able to take over the game. That extra little effort, that extra little push, some nights you've just got to find it, and it's not always there."
San Jose hopes to avoid another lackluster game on Tuesday, when Lemieux returns to Colorado (23-23-1) for the first time since playing there as a visitor on Jan. 20, 2003. He spent parts of five seasons with the Avalanche from 1995-2000.
Colorado currently sits outside of the playoff mix, residing at the bottom of the Northwest Division with 47 points.
The Avalanche didn't improve its position before the break with four losses in five games, including a 6-5 loss to Los Angeles on Wednesday.
"We came close, but in this league, you have to play a full 60 minutes to win games," right wing Chris Stewart told the Avalanche's official Web site.
Colorado trailed after two periods in its only meeting this season against San Jose, eventually falling 5-3 at home on Nov. 2. The Sharks have won four of the last six matchups at Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche is 1-2 on its season-high eight-game homestand.
|Apr 07 '09||COL 0 at SJS 1 - SO||J. Pavelski|
|Mar 22 '09||COL 1 at SJS 3||M. Michalek|
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|Nov 02 '08||SJS 5 at COL 3||M. Michalek|