Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting between the teams. All three previous meetings came in January, with the most recent coming on Jan. 31. In that game, San Jose throttled Columbus, 6-0, at HP Pavilion behind two goals and an assist from captain Joe Thornton.
Big Story: San Jose will look to extend its dwindling lead atop the Pacific Division when it faces Columbus on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena. The Sharks are just two points clear of second-place Phoenix, with two games in hand. Last-place Columbus is in the middle of a difficult stretch, with San Jose their fifth straight opponent that would be in the playoffs if they started tomorrow. The Jackets have lost three of four.
Sharks: Before embarking on their current season-long, nine-game road trip, coach Todd McLellan told reporters that the trip would be a "really great challenge" for his team. It certainly has been a challenge, and one the Sharks are currently struggling to meet head on. With Sunday's 3-2 loss in Detroit, the Sharks are 1-3-1 with four games to go. Though still in the top three of the Western by way of their Pacific Division lead, that edge has dwindled to just two points over second-place Phoenix. San Jose had won five regular-season matchups in a row against Detroit – and last season's conference semifinals – but couldn't snap Detroit's winning streak at Joe Louis Arena. With Detroit up 3-1 late, Patrick Marleau scored with 4:44 remaining to bring the Sharks within one, but that's all the Sharks could manage.
"We've got to compete harder," forward Ryane Clowe said. "The second period was good. The first period wasn't too bad, either. The third period was disappointing. That's when you've got to put your foot on the gas and hammer down. That's why [Detroit wins] so much at home. They stepped it up in the third and outplayed us."
Blue Jackets: Following a 6-1 tagging by Chicago at the United Center on Saturday, the Jackets traveled to Madison Square Garden on Sunday for a tilt against New York that few thought they could win. As it turned out, they didn't, but it was closer than anyone might have guessed. Steve Mason played well in net, stopping 32 shots, and Columbus did well to keep the game at 2-1 for much of the second half of the game. With 1:22 left to play, captain Rick Nash – long rumored to be a Rangers' trade deadline prospect – scored to send the game to overtime. Unfortunately, Derek Stepan scored 22 seconds into the extra period for a 3-2 Rangers win.
"I really like the way we battled," said interim coach Todd Richards. "I thought we fought and we clogged for everything, and we get the game to overtime. But I still think at times, we make it more difficult on ourselves by turning pucks over."
Who's Hot: Marleau has 3 goals and 1 assist in his last four games, and has scored the game-winner against Columbus twice this season. … Derick Brassard has two goals in his last two games for Columbus.
Stat Pack: Columbus is deficient in many key areas, but its impotent special teams are the biggest cause for concern. The Jackets are a League-worst 75.8 percent at killing penalties, while San Jose converts 21.1 percent of power plays, good for third in the NHL. San Jose has netted a man-advantage goal in each of the previous three matchups against Columbus.
Puck Drop: After the loss to Detroit, Clowe told reporters that what matters during the season's home stretch aren't moral victories, but points.
"I know we're first in our division, but that doesn't mean much when you're only a few points from being out the playoffs," he said. "We're looking for wins, not so much good efforts. We need to get the points in the bag."