The San Jose Sharks have been long on talent but short on grit in recent seasons as one of the NHL's elite teams that failed to reach a Stanley Cup final. They're hoping a feisty veteran with a distinguished postseason resume will provide a difference as they continue on what may be their best season in franchise history.
Claude Lemieux may make his return to the NHL after a 5 1/2-year absence Tuesday when the Sharks host a slumping Vancouver Canucks team.
The Sharks (33-6-5), who have a NHL-leading 71 points, recalled the 43-year-old Lemieux on Monday from Worcester of the AHL, where he had three goals and eight assists in 23 games. Lemieux, who has not been in the NHL since splitting the 2002-03 season with Phoenix and Dallas, has 379 goals in 1,197 regular-season games, but is more known for his 80 playoff goals - 19 of them game-winners - and winning Stanley Cup titles with Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995, 2000) and Colorado (1996).
The 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the playoffs, Lemieux also garnered a reputation as an agitator in the playoffs. He is most remembered for his hit that bloodied Red Wings forward Kris Draper in the 1996 Western Conference final, setting off a brawl and a rivalry that remains among the most intense in the NHL.
Lemieux may be able to provide the postseason toughness San Jose has lacked in recent years. The Sharks failed to get past the conference final despite posting at least 43 wins and 99 points in each of the last four seasons.
But under first-year coach Todd McClellan, the Sharks have shown the ability to overcome adversity. They bounced back from their first regulation loss in 32 games at HP Pavilion with a 6-5 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday as Milan Michalek had a goal and two assists while Ryan Clowe contributed a career-high four assists.
"(It) was one of those games where we had a character test," said Clowe, who has already set career highs in goals (19) and points (38). "They're the Stanley Cup champs, and they found a way to get a lead several times, but we kept saying on the bench that we had to keep going."
San Jose has collected at least a point in 10 of its last 12 games (8-2-2), but is 3-2-1 versus Northwest teams in that span. However, two of those victories came against the Canucks, 5-0 at home on Dec. 23 and 4-2 in Vancouver on Jan. 10.
The Sharks have outscored the Canucks 24-8 in winning the last six meetings, with Evgeni Nabokov boasting a 1.21 goals-against average in five of those matchups. San Jose hasn't lost to Vancouver since a 4-3 overtime defeat at home on April 7, 2007, and won its last three at home versus the Canucks.
Vancouver (22-19-6) is playing on the road for the first time since Jan. 7, but is probably glad to be away from home after suffering its franchise-record seventh straight (0-5-2) defeat as a host, 6-5 in a shootout to Columbus on Sunday night.
The Canucks recovered after blowing a second-period two-goal lead, but missed both of their attempts in the tiebreaker to fall to 1-4-3 over their last eight contests. Still, they were pleased to salvage a point in the finale of a five-game homestand.
"We didn't get the two points, but there are a lot of games left and if we play this way for the rest of the season, we're going to have more chances to win," former Shark Steve Bernier told the Canucks' official Web site.
Vancouver has not lost six in a row since March 13-25, 1999.
Canucks goaltender and captain Roberto Luongo will try to bounce back after making 23 saves through overtime versus Columbus in his second game back after missing almost two months with a groin injury. He has a 3.00 GAA in losing three straight to the Sharks.
It's unclear if Vancouver forward Pavol Demitra will be available after suffering a groin injury in Saturday's loss.