"He's going to come off of IR, so there's a real good chance that he will play," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after the morning skate. "We'll see how he is when he comes to the rink, but he's telling me now that he's ready. He looks ready, and right now he is."
Burns has missed 13 games with an unspecified facial injury and hasn't played since Oct. 19 against the Calgary Flames. He took a high-stick in the mouth on Oct. 12 from Ottawa Senators goaltender Robyn Lehner, but played three more games before missing more than a month of action.
The Sharks started 7-0-1 with Burns in the lineup and averaged 4.88 goals per game. Without him, they've gone 6-3-4 and averaged 2.5 goals per game.
"I think anybody who's watched us play realizes that his size and his tenacity is his biggest asset, but he can also shoot the puck and finish," McLellan said. "A little bit of unpredictability coming from him. When he's playing well it kind of puts everybody else in their right spots, if that makes any sense at all, as far as lines go. Another power play guy that can place his big body in and around the net."
"He just adds so much for the forwards up front," Thornton said. "He's a big body that moves well, gets in the forecheck real well, makes our lineup that much better.
"We try to play fast every night, and with [Burns] we're just a little bit more aggressive and hard to play against. He's a big horse out there that loves to skate and loves to work. For his linemates, like me and Tomas, we've got to keep up with a guy like that."
With Burns back in the lineup, Tommy Wingels will leave Thornton's line and skate with center Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Joe Pavelski will center the third line between Tyler Kennedy and Martin Havlat.
"He's definitely going to bring a lot of energy, and size," Marleau said of Burns. "It's great to have him back in the lineup. Hopefully he hasn't used it all up in practice, because he's been flying around out there."
Whether Burns will be more energized than usual is debatable.
"I've always got a lot of energy," Burns said before making a quick exit from the dressing room without answering questions about his health.
Burns had four goals and four assists in his eight games. McLellan acknowledged the Sharks have missed Burns, but he tempered his expectations for his big forward's first game back.
"You don't take a 6-foot-5, 230-pound player out of your lineup that can skate and shoot like that and not miss him," McLellan said. "It's as simple as that. He is a big, big part of our team. Now he'll come back into the lineup and it will take him a while to get going again. It's hard to come back in after a month of watching. The pace has gone up since he last played. The intensity, the detail to games have gone up, not only for us but for the opposition. So to expect him to be the savior would be a mistake for all of us."
After going 3-1-1 on a road trip that ended with a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sharks will open a five-game homestand against Tampa Bay (14-7-0). The Lightning were 7-0-0 against Western Conference teams before losing 6-3 to the Phoenix Coyotes and 5-2 to the Los Angeles Kings in the first two games of their four-game road trip, which ends Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
Backup goaltender Anders Lindback (1-4-0) will start against the Sharks in the front end of back-to-back games.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he wants to see his team regain its defensive edge, and its patience and poise overall.
"Clearly we've been giving up a few too many goals," Cooper said after Tampa Bay's optional skate. "I think just kind of that mentality we've had when we don't have the puck five guys are playing on 'D' and when we have it five are playing on offense. We've kind of gone away from that a little bit.
"Because we've gotten down early in these games, we've pressed a little bit to score goals. Probably been on the wrong side of pucks hoping that a bounce here or a bounce there is going to get us back into the game, and all it's really done is put us in a deeper hole. So we kind of just have to trust our system a little bit and if we do get down not to change things up. Trust that our offense will come from our defense, and we just got to stick to it."
Here are the projected lineups for Tampa Bay and San Jose: