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Must-win game fuels Sharks' hunger

Desperation is like an old jersey for the San Jose Sharks. They wore it for nearly three months while fighting to make the postseason, so it wasn't difficult to put it on again when facing playoff elimination this week.

In fact, coach Ron Wilson thinks desperation is an excellent fit for his young club -- but if he's wrong, a roller-coaster season is over.

The Sharks are down, 3-2, in their second-round playoff series after three consecutive losses to the Oilers, who can earn the franchise's first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1992 with a home win tonight.

''We've been an underdog all year," Wilson said after practice yesterday. ''We've been so far behind, we got lapped. We've been in this position so many times that we're kind of immune to it."

And as Wilson pointed out to his players, a 3-2 series lead hardly guarantees a pass to the next round: In the last six playoff seasons, a whopping 15 teams have rallied from that deficit to win a series.

Five of the last six NHL champions did it, including Tampa Bay's dramatic Stanley Cup finals rally in 2004 -- and four of those five champs had to win a Game 6 on the road to stay alive in the playoffs.

If the fifth-seeded Sharks are a championship-caliber team, as Wilson firmly believes, they must do the same to force a decisive Game 7 in San Jose Friday night.

''It happens every year, and it hasn't happened yet this year," Wilson said.

''We'll be ready, and we'll throw everything we have at Edmonton, and if they win, we'll stand back and applaud them . . . but I think our guys will get it done."

Elias to test market

Patrik Elias will explore the free agency market if the Devils fail to come up with a contract that makes the high-scoring left wing want to stay in New Jersey.

''If it's right, I want to stay, obviously," Elias said. ''It's just that I am in a situation where I can take advantage of it. ''But we'll see. ''That doesn't mean I am going to take advantage of it or use it to my advantage. This organization gave me a lot of positive things in my life." Before negotiations can start, Elias has to hire an agent.

Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello plans to do everything possible to sign Elias, who will become a free agent July 1. ''We are a believer in our own homebred players," Lamoriello said. ''They come together. That was a key factor in us overcoming adversity this year, having players who have had success together."

Elias earned $4.1 million last season, a year in which he missed the first three months because of hepatitis.

His return in January sparked a nine-game winning streak that got New Jersey back into playoff contention and an 11-game run at the end of the season that led the Devils to the Atlantic Division title.

Elias boosted his value in the playoffs with 6 goals and 10 assists in nine games.

US advances
Dustin Brown scored his team-leading fifth goal to lead the United States over the Czech Republic 3-1, in Riga, Latvia, setting up a quarterfinal meeting today with Olympic champion Sweden in the World Ice Hockey Championship. Ryan Malone of the Pittsburgh Penguins paced the Americans with a goal and an assist. Mark Cullen scored the other goal. Zbynek Michalek scored for the Czechs, cutting the Americans' lead to 2-1 at 7:25 in the second period. The Americans capitalized on a defensive mistake by the Czechs to take a two-goal lead at 7:25 in the third period. After intercepting the puck near the Czech blue line, Malone set up Brown in front of the goal. The Los Angeles Kings forward, tied for second in goals behind Canada's Sidney Crosby, one-timed the perfect pass with a shot past Czech Republic goalie Milan Hnilicka . . . The latest early playoff exit by the Ottawa Senators won't lead general manager John Muckler to overhaul a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference. While Muckler accepted part of the blame, he showed overwhelming support for a club that's failed to make it out of the second round in seven of eight playoff appearances. The Senators had 113 points in the regular season but were eliminated in five games by the Sabres. With only eight players under contract for next season, the Senators face the loss of unrestricted free agents Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza, and Martin Havlat.

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