Sharks-Stars: What to watch for

April 3, 2012, 6:08 pm
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DALLAS Win, and the Sharks will be sitting pretty in terms of locking down a playoff spot. Lose, and San Jose becomes a real long shot to make it to the postseason.

It really is that simple, as the eighth-place Sharks (40-29-10, 90 points) visit the ninth-place Dallas Stars (42-32-5, 89 points) tonight at the American Airlines Center.

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Were ahead of these guys today, but weve got to win tonight against them, Logan Couture said. Were sitting in eighth place and its going to be a battle right down to the end. Well treat this like a playoff game, and its going to be a big one tonight.

The Sharks are a miserable 1-6-2 on the road in their last nine games, but beat Dallas at home on Saturday, 3-0. Overall, San Jose is 4-0-1 against its Pacific Division rival.

We passed the first test with some pretty good results, at home in a comfortable environment with our fans, Todd McLellan said. Now, were out on the road. Well find out a little bit about ourselves tonight in a hostile environment with some pressure thats put on us based on where we are in the standings.

The Sharks close out the regular season with a visit to Los Angeles on Thursday before hosting the Kings on Saturday at HP Pavilion. The Kings lead the Pacific Division with 93 points.

Start will be key: The Sharks have scored first in four of the five games against Dallas, with the lone exception the 4-3 shootout loss here on March 8. San Jose expects the Stars to come out like gangbusters tonight, as Dallas is in as much need of a win as the Sharks are.

Attendance has been a struggle for the Stars in recent years, but the club has already announced a sellout.

We expect a good crowd, and its going to be an exciting game, said Joe Pavelski, who has seven goals in his last nine games. A good start just shows that were ready and were going to be committed the whole way. Its important for us to get off to a good start.

Were due for a good road game, but just because youre due doesnt mean its going to happen. Having a good start is part of that.

Pavleski scored just 58 seconds into Saturdays game, discouraging a Stars club that arrived in San Jose late after a game on Friday in Vancouver. Dallas fell to just 1-11-2 in the second of back-to-backs, but, like San Jose, has not played since Saturday.

Were at home, weve had a practice and a day off and a morning skate. The conditions are what you want this time of the year to have success, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. Its just about going out and getting it done.

Checking the lineup: Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray skated with the Sharks again on Tuesday morning, and will be a game-time decision, according to McLellan.

Dallas will get third-line winger Eric Nystrom back for the game after he missed three games with leg laceration.

Hes just a real solid player for us that does the little things well night in and night out. To have him back is a big thing for us tonight, Gulutzan said.

Radek Dvorak, who has been out for the last four with an ankle injury, skated with the Stars and is a game-time decision.

Embrace the pressure: Both the Sharks and Stars spoke on Tuesday morning about enjoying the playoff race, and using the added pressure for motivation.

It can definitely raise your game if you become aware of it, and get the feeling, and do all the right things that come with it, Pavelski said. Its a really good chance to test ourselves as a team.

Stars captain Brenden Morrow said: This is the best time of year. You see what youre made of in these games. You see what kind of character and guts your teammates have when it comes to these games.

In the net: Antti Niemi will make his 19th start in a row tonight. Hes 3-0-1 with a 1.47 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in four games against Dallas this season, including a shutout on Thursday.

In his career, Niemi is 7-2-3 with a 2.10 GAA and .927 SP against Dallas in 12 games.

Kari Lehtonen will go for the Stars. Hes 0-1-1 against San Jose this season with a 2.89 GAA and .927 SP.

Lehtonen is just 4-5-1 with a 3.52 GAA and .910 SP in 10 games against the Sharks lifetime.
Odds and ends: Phoenix hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7:00 p.m. PST. The Sharks won the three games at HP Pavilion by a combined 13-4 score. Joe Thornton leads all players with 11 points in the season series (1g, 10a). Dallas finishes its season with games in Nashville Thursday and at home against St. Louis on Saturday. Logan Couture has no goals in his last 10 games.