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Blue Jackets Face San Jose

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets

An easy portion of the schedule is providing the San Jose Sharks with some needed wins as the regular season winds down.

The Sharks look run their winning streak to four games on Friday night when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets.

San Jose (43-25-3) is tied for second in the Pacific Division with Dallas, which has a game in hand and 12 to play. Both teams are seven points behind division-leading Anaheim.

San Jose has enjoyed a soft stretch in which its posted easy wins over Edmonton, Chicago and Phoenix - three last-place teams in their respective divisions.

"Sometimes when a team is in the playoffs they can take these teams lightly," Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren said. "These are important points for us to stay in fifth and to see if we can catch Anaheim. We didn't want to give these points away so I like the way we are starting."

San Jose enters this game after a thorough 5-1 victory Thursday over the Coyotes. Joe Thornton had a goal and three assists, two of which led to goals by linemate Jonathan Cheechoo, and Milan Michalek completed the top line's dominance with three assists.

"We have so many good offensive players with good offensive instincts," said Thornton, the reigning MVP who has two goals and six assists in the three wins. "When you give the puck up we're so fast and so strong we're going to jump on you quick and be able to score a couple of goals."

In addition to having a solid top scoring line, San Jose has been nearly unbeatable at home against Columbus (28-35-7), compiling a 10-0-1 mark all-time since the Blue Jackets entered the league in 2000. The Sharks have outscored the Blue Jackets 47-18 in those games while converting 31.0 percent (18-for-58) of their power-play opportunities.

Veteran Bill Guerin - a key acquisition at last month's trading deadline - scored for the second straight game and has 32 goals overall. Matt Carle, who scored San Jose's other goal Thursday, has a four-game point streak and has at least one point in nine of his last 10 games.

"We roll four lines all night, roll six on defense and have great goaltending," Thornton said. "We have so much depth and we're really confident right now. We're playing great hockey right now."

The Blue Jackets have split the first two games of their four-game road trip, and helped the Sharks out with a 5-4 shootout victory over Anaheim on Wednesday. David Vyborny's goal in the fifth round of the shootout ended a tense duel in which Fredrik Norrena stopped all five shootout attempts he faced.

"It's not every day you get away with a win against them when they score four times on you," said Norrena, who had 34 saves before the shootout. "They're one of the top teams, and they're not easy to beat when they're at home. But we played our best."

Nikolai Zherdev scored two goals, and Fredrik Modin added one and two assists for Columbus, which has won four of its last six road games. Wednesday's victory also was a franchise-record 13th road win for the Blue Jackets, who have just 59 overall in team history.

Columbus has lost four straight at San Jose since its lone win at the HP Pavilion, a 3-2 overtime victory Jan. 8, 2004, in which Rick Nash scored the winning goal with 3 seconds left in overtime. Nash, who has a team-high 22 goals, has six goals in 12 career games against the Sharks.


- Associated Press

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