GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (34-34-4) at San Jose Sharks (36-25-10).
TIME: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST.
The San Jose Sharks seek their ninth win in 12 games as they host the Phoenix Coyotes in the first of two pivotal Western Conference matchups at HP Pavilion.
San Jose, one of six teams vying for the final four playoff spots in the conference, has struggled this season against Phoenix, going 1-3-1. The Sharks have lost both their home games to the Coyotes - 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 19 and 5-4 on Dec. 28.
The teams will meet again Saturday in San Jose, Calif., and wrap up the season series April 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
The Sharks had a chance to tie Vancouver for the eighth seed in the West, but lost 4-1 to Columbus on Tuesday to finish a five-game road trip at 3-2.
Steve Bernier scored his fourth goal in five games to give the Sharks the lead midway through the first period, but the Blue Jackets scored four unanswered goals despite being outshot 29-23.
"It was a play where we could have gotten the puck and we didn't," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "We were casual and they made us pay for it. We talked about that between the second and the third periods. We just gave them life."
Goaltender Vesa Toskala lost for the first time in regulation since a 3-2 defeat March 3 against Edmonton. Toskala, named the NHL Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, had gone 7-0-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average in his previous eight starts.
Toskala is 3-1-0 with a 2.20 GAA versus the Coyotes in six career games.
Phoenix has won five of its last seven contests, but trails San Jose by 10 points with just 10 games remaining. The Coyotes are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in the last five seasons.
Shane Doan scored his 10th goal in 14 games to tie his career high with 27, and Curtis Joseph made 28 saves to notch his 424th win in the Coyotes' 5-3 victory over Nashville on Tuesday.
Joseph, who backed up David LeNeveu the previous two games, moved past Tony Esposito and into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time wins list.
"While you're still playing, there still are lots of things to do and lots of games to be played," Joseph said. "He (Esposito) is one of the greatest goalies, was fun to watch and was a character of the game. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Tony Esposito is special."
Joseph has dominated the Sharks in his career, going 30-7-1 with a 2.11 GAA.
STANDINGS: Coyotes - 72 points, 5th place, 29 PB, Pacific Division. Sharks - 82 points, 3rd place, 19 PB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Doan, 27 goals, 59 points and 116 PIM; Ladislav Nagy, 41 assists. Sharks - Jonathan Cheechoo, 45 goals; Joe Thornton, 81 assists and 106 points; Mark Smith, 89 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Coyotes - Power play: 18.0 percent (86 for 478), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.3 percent (365 for 449), 20th. Sharks - Power play: 17.5 percent (74 for 422), 18th. Penalty killing: 81.2 percent (281 for 346), 21st.
GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Joseph (28-20-2, 2 SO, 2.98 GAA); LeNeveu (3-6-2, 3.35). Sharks - Toskala (16-7-3, 1, 2.71); Evgeni Nabokov (15-17-7, 1, 3.06).
SEASON SERIES: Coyotes, 4-0-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 12; Sharks, 5-4 (OT). At Glendale, Ariz., Tom Preissing scored the game-winner 1:54 into overtime, and Thornton had a goal and two assists in San Jose's third straight win. Steve Reinprecht tallied his 11th goal of the season for Phoenix.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 16-17-1 on the road; Sharks - 22-7-6 at home.