And yet, Colorado's primary talking point was that all the pressure remained on top-seeded San Jose, one win away from truly putting away the hideous memory of last year's first-round fiasco against eighth-seeded Anaheim.
When the Avalanche went ahead early in the third period, the Sharks had to do some scrambling -- and they did. Momentum? Maybe. More energy than the beat-up Avs? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just the combination of Game 3 unfortunates Dan Boyle, who tied the game back up Saturday, and goalie Nabokov, who turned in another strong performance.
And then there was San Jose series MVP, Joe Pavelski, who provided the go-ahead goal with 11 minutes to play, and San Jose sped off to a 5-2 victory, dismissing the Cinderella Avs from the postseason and exorcising their own first-round demons. Devin Setoguchi, Pavelski's linemate, chipped in an empty-netter, and so too did defenseman Douglas Murray.
Before Saturday night's game, Sharks forward Ryane Clowe told reporters that the team had a "good chance to show some killer instinct," and San Jose kept up a constant pounding on Colorado.
The Sharks held a shot advantage of 80 through the first five games, 211 to 131, and then they outshot the Avalanche 34-18 on Saturday. San Jose spent the majority of the series in the offensive zone.
Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson had an inordinate number of saves, 223, in the six games, and he had plenty of help from his teammates, who blocked a whopping 146 shots and also recorded 188 hits.
"It just becomes like white noise," Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles told FanHouse on Thursday when asked about the toll on the Avs from a physical standpoint with all those blocks and hits. "What's one more?"
But all that time working in their own end -- which included some extremely long shifts in San Jose -- and all those blows to the body seemed to start to add up in Game 5 when the Sharks ran away with a 5-0 victory.
When Pavelski scored 47 seconds into Saturday night's game, the specter of a tired Colorado team came to the fore again, especially with Milan Hejduk and Peter Mueller both still out of action.
And yet the Avalanche held it there the remainder of the period and they provided an equalizer 6:14 into the second period, when Marek Svatos chugged down the left side, weaved through traffic and stuck it in on the right side of the net, the first goal Nabokov had allowed in six periods. It was the first postseason goal for Svatos in six years; he'd had the best scoring chance for the Avalanche when they were blanked in Game 5, ringing one off the post.
Colorado gained the lead at the 15:09 mark of the third period, with Brandon Yip going hard to the net, taking a pass from Paul Stastny and slipping it in. The newly former Yip-Stastny-T.J. Galiardi line had combined for ... no shots in the first two periods.
That was the last gasp for the Avs, though. If they weren't truly worn down before, San Jose made sure of it the rest of the way. Less than three minutes after Yip's goal, Anderson (and a post) turned aside a Dany Heatley shot, but Dan Boyle -- the goat of Game 3 -- moved from the right-hand boards back across the top and fired. With Clowe positioned in front of the crease, Anderson didn't get a great look, and the game was tied.
Just 1:29 after that, Pavelski screamed into the Colorado zone with Setoguchi on his right. Pavelski lost the puck for one beat, found it and swept it in from in front, the unplanned hesitation move adding to the degree of difficulty.
Nabokov, who is getting to be known more for coming up small in big games than for his terrific regular seasons, was in excellent form in the final four games of the series, allowing only four goals. In Game 3, the one goal, in overtime, came off an attempted clear behind the net by Boyle with an assist from Ryan O'Reilly, whose stick provided a slight deflection past Nabokov.
Boyle scored the first goal of Game 4, and then he put in the game-tying goal Saturday. Afterward, he told CSN California television that he could finally put the own goal behind him.
Colorado was one of the best regular-season stories in the league this season after finishing last in the conference last season, and Anderson, a career backup until he found a regular spot with the Avalanche, was a revelation. Considering the team's youth and inexperience -- 12 of the Avs had never been to the playoffs, and Joe Sacco is in his first year as head coach -- Colorado could be a club to watch in the next several years.