1/25/97 -- 2:44 AM


SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - While the San Jose Sharks had to contend with circulating trade rumors in addition to the New Jersey Devils, all the Devils had to contend with were the Sharks.

New Jersey's job proved easier as Steve Sullivan scored the game-winning goal late in the second period, and all-star goalie Martin Brodeur recorded 18 saves, to lead the Devils to a 3-1 victory over the Sharks on Friday night.

The rumors, involving San Jose and the Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ed Balfour, began before the game started.

``They took his name plate off in Chicago, so it's obvious he's gone from there,'' said the Sharks' Tony Granato. ``I've been in theis league nine years and have been a part of quite a few rumors. Some of the guys were wondering if this was their last game here. It's hard to play like that.''

The Sharks closed their locker room for 40 minutes while players tried to console each other. The team called a press conference to say there was no deal to talk about.

``A lot of guys were talking to each other, trying to keep their heads up,'' Granato said of the closed locker room.

Meanwhile, Sullivan scored his third of the season, just 49 seconds after the Sharks had tied the game. Sullivan picked up a rebound at the top of the crease and slipped the puck under the pads of San Jose goalie Chris Terreri, who was one of those mentioned in the rumors.

``The Sharks bounced me around and in the right direction, and the rebound came right out to me,'' said Sullivan. ``I was just able to tap it in. I just stayed around the crease hoping something would pop up.''

``Sullivan brings something to the game every night,'' said New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire. ``If he gets a little room he can do things.''

Stephen Goulla tied the game for the Sharks with his second goal of the season at 15:21 of the second period.

Jeff Friesen, also the subject of trade rumors, drew the attention of the New Jersey defense, then made a pass across the slot to Guolla, who was left unguarded and had an open net.

The Sharks had a difficult time getting anything past Brodeur, who only had to face 19 shots.

``We responded real well to a team that wanted to play rough against us,'' said Brodeur. ``They had some good, wide-open chances and I did what I had to do to make the saves.''

Valeri Zelepukin got the Devils on the scoreboard first with his sixth goal of the season, a power-play goal at 4:45 of the first period.

Zelepukin shot from the left hash mark, after taking a pass from Scott Stevens. He slipped the puck under the pads of former Devils goalie Terreri, who still holds several New Jersey team goaltending records, including wins (106) and ties (32).

It was the 33rd time this season New Jersey has scored first in a game, tops in the NHL.

``Zelepukin took a hit to make that play,'' said Lemaire.

John MacLean added an empty-net goal, his 16th of the season, at 19:17 of the third period.

Stevens, who played in his eighth all-star game Saturday in San Jose, recorded his 201st career assist on Zelepukin's goal.

The Devils allowed San Jose just 19 shots on goal, the fewest taken in a game this season by the Sharks.

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