March 17, 2011
MINNESOTA (35-28-7) vs.
Coverage begins at 7 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks' Pacific Division lead could have been trimmed to one point with a fourth straight defeat. Instead, the Sharks feel momentum on their side following a comeback victory.
That could be hard for San Jose to maintain minus one of its best players.
Playing the first of two games without the suspended Dany Heatley, San Jose looks to continue its run toward the postseason Thursday night when it tries to extend its recent home success versus the Minnesota Wild, who are hoping the return of captain Mikko Koivu can spark a late-season charge.
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Coming off Monday's 6-3 loss at Chicago - its third consecutive defeat - San Jose (40-23-8) rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit Tuesday to beat Dallas 6-3. Heatley and captain Joe Thornton had two goals apiece as the Sharks remained three points ahead of Los Angeles and Phoenix in the division standings.
REWIND: Sharks rally to beat Stars in Dallas
"Yeah, these were the results we were looking for," coach Todd McLellan said. "We challenged them after the effort that we had (Monday). We haven't had to do that much lately."
However, Heatley will be out for this contest and Saturday against St. Louis for elbowing Dallas' Steve Ott in the head. Heatley has 24 goals and is second on the team with 58 points while playing in all 71 games this season.
San Jose, 19-4-3 since Jan. 15, is third in the Western Conference standings and on the heels of second-place Detroit.
"We just have a lot of confidence now and momentum's a little bit more on our side," center Joe Pavelski said after recording a career-best four assists Tuesday.
Even without Heatley, San Jose should have plenty of confidence as it begins a three-game homestand. The Sharks are 7-0-1 against the Wild at home since a 4-1 loss Oct. 21, 2006.
In the teams' only meeting at HP Pavilion this season, San Jose won 4-3 on Jan. 22 behind two second-period goals from Devin Setoguchi.
Minnesota (35-28-7) had won the previous two matchups with San Jose - 1-0 on Nov. 2 and 5-3 on Dec. 29.
Looking to win the season series versus the Sharks for the first time since 2005-06, the Wild also hope to snap a three-game skid and improve their 11th-place standing in the West. Minnesota is just four points out of a playoff spot, but the club has scored only twice during its slide.
Koivu had a hand in both of those scores, finding the back of the net and assisting on Andrew Brunette's goal in Monday's 4-2 loss at Vancouver. Koivu, second on the team with 51 points, had missed the previous 11 games with a broken finger.
"You can't look behind. You've got to look forward. We're still right there," said Koivu, who leads Minnesota with three goals against the Sharks this season.
Niklas Backstrom has been in net for all three games against San Jose, but he may back up Jose Theodore in this matchup after going 1-5-0 with a 3.59 goals-against average in last six starts.
Theodore has won his last two starts in San Jose, with the last coming in 2008 while with Colorado.
If Antti Niemi makes his 27th consecutive start in front of Antero Niittymaki, it will be the second time he faces Minnesota this season. He turned away 23 shots on Jan. 22 to improve to 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA against the Wild.
The Sharks have killed just 19 of 28 opponent power plays in eight games this month, but Minnesota is 0 for 10 on the power play during its skid.