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League-leading Wild deny slumping Sharks

11/1/2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Wild have the best record
in the NHL.

Yes, even their coach is at a loss for words.

"I don't know what's going on -- it's that simple. I just see a
bunch of guys excited to play,'' Jacques Lemaire said after
Sergei Zholtok scored his second goal with 9.1 seconds left in overtime to
give the Wild a 2-1 victory Thursday night over the San Jose
Sharks.

After watching the Wild beat and tie powerful Colorado in their
last two games and go through a sluggish morning skate Thursday,
Lemaire was worried his team might be out of energy against the
big, bruising Sharks.

"I thought it would be a lot harder,'' he said. "I never
thought we'd skate the way we did. I was impressed.''

Wes Walz's cross-checking penalty with 1:03 left in regulation
gave the slumping Sharks a power play for nearly the first minute
of overtime, but the Wild killed it.

Minnesota (8-1-2) -- which leads the league with 18 points after
finishing last in the Northwest Division last season -- was headed
for its third tie with less than 10 seconds remaining. But Zholtok
jumped on a loose puck and sent it past San Jose goalie Evgeni
Nabokov for the win.

Brad Bombardir assisted on both of Zholtok's goals, making up
for an earlier miscue that set up the Sharks' only score.

The Wild, in their third season since joining the league as an
expansion franchise in 2000, weren't expected to make much more
than incremental improvements. But San Jose coach Darryl Sutter
spoke as though they're already an elite team.

"We got one point out of the building, which is better than
most teams,'' Sutter said. "We better be thankful for that and
move on.''

Marco Sturm scored a second-period goal for the Sharks (3-7),
who lost their third straight -- all with Nabokov in goal.

Nabokov, who made 26 saves, gave up three goals in each of his
first two starts since ending his holdout and signing a two-year,
$7.15 million contract Oct. 22.

The Sharks won their first Pacific Division title last season
with a franchise-record 99 points.

"I think we've been playing better and better ... just not for
the whole game,'' Nabokov said. "Bad fortune is part of the
game.''

San Jose had just 14 points in October last year.

"If we play as hard as we have been, it's going to be a
fight,'' Sutter said. "Anyone who thinks it's different than that
isn't looking.''

Dwayne Roloson made 19 saves for the Wild, unbeaten in their
last six games. Roloson made a nice stop of Owen Nolan's
short-handed rebound shot midway through the second period but
minutes later lost his shutout.

After a faceoff, Bombardir controlled the puck in the corner and
tried to clear it past his defender, but it glanced off him and
slid in front of the net -- setting up an easy goal for Sturm.

"It was a bad bounce,'' Bombardir said. "My fault. I've got to
get the puck by that guy.''

Niklas Sundstrom was credited with the assist, his fifth of the
season.

Roloson (2-1-2) was Minnesota's best goalie last year as Manny
Fernandez struggled, but Fernandez has been outstanding so far this
season -- going 6-0 with a 1.48 goals-allowed average and leaving
less time for Roloson to play.

Zholtok tied the game at 1 midway through the third, poking in
the rebound of Bombardir's slap shot from the circle 7:57 into the
final period.

"It's an awesome feeling,'' Zholtok said. "This year is
different. We hope to continue this way.''

Game notes
The Wild outshot the Sharks 12-3 in the first period and
21-10 over the first two. ... The Wild traded little-used LW
Sylvain Blouin to Montreal Thursday for a seventh-round draft pick.
... Bombardir sat out Tuesday against Colorado after being hit in
the eye with a puck in a game two days earlier. ... Nolan was
called for three penalties, two in the third period. ... Sturm
scored his fourth goal of season, his first since Oct. 17.