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TIME FOR SHARKS TO GROW HAS ARRIVED, DEFENSEMAN BOYLE SAYS

Times wires

SAN JOSE, Calif. - As soon as the Sharks were swept out of the Western Conference final a year ago by the Blackhawks, coach Todd McLellan's message was the importance of growth.

After an up-and-down regular season, tough moments in the first playoff round against the Kings and almost blowing a 3-0 lead in the second against the Red Wings, the Sharks are back in the final. They face the Canucks starting Sunday, trying for their first Stanley Cup final.

"The team started the season talking about growth," said defenseman Dan Boyle, who was on the Lightning's 2004 Cup-winning team. "This is where we start growing, from here now, because we were here last year."

Against Detroit, the Sharks were on the brink of being the fourth NHL team to lose a series after winning the first three games. They held on for a 3-2 victory Thursday in Game 7 to earn their third trip to the conference final overall. They lost in six games to Edmonton in 2004.

Islanders: Rookie of the year finalist Michael Grabner (team-high 34 goals) agreed to a five-year deal extension worth a reported $15 million.

Thrashers: The financially troubled team said it is pursuing new ownership that would keep it in Atlanta amid persistent reports - denied by commissioner Gary Bettman - it is close to moving to Winnipeg.

Winter Classic: The Flyers and Rangers will play Jan. 2 at the Phillies' Citizens Bank Park, according to media reports. The league didn't comment. The annual outdoor game is usually played on New Year's Day, but because that is on a Sunday next season, the game would be moved to avoid conflict with NFL games.

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