SHARKS (8-4-3) at BLACKHAWKS (13-0-3)
TV: NHLN-US, CSN-CA, CSN-CH
Last 10: San Jose 3-4-3; Chicago 7-0-3
Season series: The Blackhawks won both of their games so far this season against the Sharks, taking the most recent meeting 4-1 on Feb. 15 at the United Center. This will be the final game between San Jose and Chicago in the regular season.
Big story: The Sharks and Blackhawks were already about as familiar as teams in different divisions can be, but they just might know each other a little bit better now. The two teams are playing the final game of their season series Friday night and all three have come in a span of just 18 days. In fact, this will be San Jose's second visit to Chicago's United Center in its last three games as part of what is a season-long road trip for the Sharks and homestand for the Blackhawks.
All of that is just background noise to the real story, however. The Sharks, trying to build momentum in the penultimate game of their six-game trek, can end the historic start of the Blackhawks, who are looking to pick up at least one point in their 17th consecutive game, a feat that would be the longest such run to open an NHL season.
Sharks: When San Jose started its road trip it had already begun a surprising slide, dropping four games -- three of them at home -- before losing the first three games on the current swing. While the Sharks are still struggling offensively -- the team has now scored more than two goals in its last five games -- they at least snapped their skid Tuesday night with a 2-1 win against St. Louis.
San Jose's recent slide has dropped it to second place in the Pacific Division with the first-place Anaheim Ducks holding a comfy six-point cushion. If the Sharks can get through Friday night in Chicago and Saturday in Dallas, they could start to chip away at the deficit. After the road trip the Sharks will get three straight games at home, a place where they've suffered just one regulation loss all season.
Blackhawks: The Blackhawks made history Tuesday night, but for a few moments it seemed like they were trying their best not to. Chicago held a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead over the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period, but surrendered two goals in the final three minutes, nearly letting a solid victory against a top opponent slip away. The Blackhawks recovered quickly, however, holding on to force overtime before ultimately winning in a shootout.
Just reaching overtime was all the Blackhawks needed for history, though. Doing so gave Chicago 16 straight games without a regulation loss to start a season, tying a mark set by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks. Getting to the 61st minute of action tonight would put the Blackhawks alone at the top of that particular mountain, but Chicago might need to be wary of not closing the Sharks out in regulation. All three of the Blackhawks' losses this season have come not in overtime but in the shootout, where they actually have a losing record.
Who's hot: If nothing else, the Sharks have learned just how valuable goalie Antti Niemi can be. Niemi was rock solid again against St. Louis, stopping 25 of 26 shots. The Finnish netminder has given up more than one goal just twice in his last six starts. … Duncan Keith has five points in his last three games for Chicago.
Injury report: The Blackhawks received much good news on the injury front Thursday, notably in the case of Marian Hossa, who was back on the ice at practice after taking a blow to the head Tuesday from Vancouver's Jannik Hansen, an incident that resulted in Hansen receiving a one-game suspension. Brent Seabrook (lower body) and Corey Crawford (upper body) also skated, though Crawford is considered doubtful while Seabrook and Hossa are questionable. … San Jose's James Sheppard is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
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