SAN JOSE Simple math says that of the four remaining teams vying for three playoff spots, the San Jose Sharks are the longest shot to make it.
That would change with a regulation win over the Stars tonight at HP Pavilion. San Jose has just four games remaining in the regular season, which concludes with a visit to Dallas on Tuesday followed by a home-and-home with the Los Angeles Kings.
We want to win four straight, but we want to start with tonight, Joe Thornton said after a mandatory Sharks morning skate. Weve got to be shortsighted right now. Weve just got to win. It would be nice to go 4-0, but weve got to win tonight.
The Sharks (39-29-10, 88 points) are in ninth place in the West, just one point behind seventh place Dallas (42-31-5, 89 points). The Phoenix Coyotes are in eighth, also with 89 points, while the Kings lead the Pacific Division with 90. All teams have four games left.
Todd McLellan said: The players know where were at. They know that the time crunch is on them. They know whats left, and they know what the standings are.
Murray questionable: The Sharks lost Douglas Murray in the game in Anaheim on Wednesday, but the defenseman was on the ice this morning and could play against the Stars. He sat out Thursday's 2-0 loss in Phoenix in favor of Colin White.
Good, Murray replied, when asked how he felt. Well see what the coaches decide. When it comes to the lineup, youve always got to talk to them.
McLellan said: If he is able to play at 100 percent, well see him. If theres a risk of him not being able to finish, and us being put in a position to play five defensemen, we wont.
Murray attempted to play through the lower body injury in the first period against the Ducks, but it was easy to tell he had lost a step.
The position the Sharks are in also factors into his and the teams decision.
I probably felt I could play the other night in Phoenix, too, but its an important time right now. If youre somewhat affected by something and you cant make a play, one goal could be the difference. This might be a little bit different if it was Game 40.
Trends favor San Jose: The Sharks are 3-0-1 against Dallas this season, and will need to improve upon that record if they want to make it into the postseason.
For whatever reason, they bring out the best in us, Thornton said. Weve always played well in their building, and this year weve kind of had their number in our building. Hopefully, well continue that trend tonight.
The Sharks would be a perfect 4-0 against Dallas were it not for a late third period goal by Tomas Vincour and subsequent shootout loss in the most recent meeting at American Airlines Arena on March 8.
Still, seven out of eight points aint bad.
Playing with a lead, I think, is important against them. Weve been able to establish that in most of the game, said McLellan, whose club has scored first in all three of its wins. The special teams and penalty kill has pretty good, we havent given up many goals. Just getting timely goals from people when we need them. Pretty simple formula, and well need that again tonight.
The Sharks have outscored Dallas 10-4 in a pair of wins at HP Pavilion this season on Dec. 8 and Feb. 2.
Thornton leads all scorers in the season series with nine points (1g, 8a), while Patrick Marleau (2g, 3a) and Brent Burns (1g, 4a) have five points each. No player on Dallas has more than three points against the Sharks in the five games.
The Sharks should have the energy advantage, too, as Dallas lost 5-2 in Vancouver on Friday night before having to travel immediately after the game. They're just 1-10-2 in the second of back-to-backs as it is.
McLellan, of course, caught that game.
I thought they played very well early in the game and Canucks goalie Cory Schneider played very well keeping Vancouver in it. They look like theyre playing hard and theyre ready to compete for points, he said.
Roller-coaster ride continues: The Sharks bring a two-game losing streak into tonights game, having scored just one goal total in regulation losses in Anaheim and Phoenix. The Sharks looked to be gaining momentum before the trip, thanks to a three-game winning streak.
Its not the first time in the past few weeks theyve been unable to build on successive wins. The Sharks were 3-0-1 from March 12 March 17, but then suffered a pair of crushing losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Theres been games where weve played well and the outcome hasnt been there for us, but more times than not when you give that effort youll get your chances and win those games, Patrick Marleau said. But, we have to find a way to win some games and get ourselves in a good spot.
Niemi vs. Lehtonen: Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in net for the Stars, and will look to improve on his career numbers vs. the Sharks. Hes 4-4-1 with a 3.58 goals-against average and .910 save percentage against San Jose, although he did record the shootout win over the Sharks on March 8 in what was his only appearance against them this season.
Lehtonen was pulled in the third period of the Stars loss in Vancouver after giving up four goals in 50 minutes.
Niemi will make his 18th straight start, and is 2-0-1 against Dallas this season. In 11 career appearances against the Stars, hes 6-2-3 with a 2.29 GAA and .922 SP.
He's 4-0-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average in his last five starts against Dallas.
Odds and ends: Joe Thornton was named the Sharks Player of the Month for March. He has at least a point in 21 of his last 31 games, with eight goals and 26 assists over that span. Phoenix hosts Anaheim and the Kings are in Minnesota in other games that will impact the Western Conference playoff race tonight. The Sharks will play their 17th game in the month of March. Michael Ryder has five points in the last four games and leads the Stars with 35 goals. Mike Ribeiro also has five points in his last four.