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Blackhawks and Sharks seek to end slumps

by Brian Hedger

BLACKHAWKS (33-10-13) at SHARKS (34-15-6)


Last 10: Chicago 4-2-4; San Jose 6-4-0

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks make their only visit of the season to SAP Center for their third and final game of the season against the San Jose Sharks. The teams split two games at United Center: The Blackhawks won 5-1 on Nov. 17 and the Sharks earned a 3-2 shootout victory on Jan. 5.

Big story: Two of the NHL's best teams are trying to get out of slumps. The Blackhawks snapped a four-game winless skid with 5-2 road victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. The Sharks come home with a three-game losing streak in which they've scored one goal; it came in the third period of a 4-1 road loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: It seems odd to say for an elite team leading its division, but Chicago needed that victory against the Canucks to put some energy back in their game. The Blackhawks had started to look a little sluggish following a 5-4 road shootout loss to the rival Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 22, but they're hoping the breakout game against Vancouver sparks a winning streak.

They haven't won more than two games in a row since early December, and the St. Louis Blues are hot on their heels for first place in the Central Division. The path doesn't get any easier in the immediate future, with road games against San Jose, the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes before breaking for the 2014 Sochi Games.

"I think the biggest thing for us lately is that we haven't had those moments where we've been playing well," captain Jonathan Toews said following the victory against Vancouver. "I mean, we've had that a lot, but we just haven't been able to hang onto leads and didn't play the right way late in games. I think we made an effort to change that [against the Canucks]."

Sharks: San Jose is hoping to get center Logan Couture back soon after surgery to repair a bone in his hand, but it probably won't be in this game. Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Couture could potentially return ahead of schedule, sometime in the next four games, but won't be rushed.

In the meantime, McLellan would like to see a little more offensive firepower from the guys who are in uniform. Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have accounted for six of the Sharks' eight goals in the past six games, but San Jose is at its best with a more balanced attack.

"We just need to get back to finishing," Thornton said following the loss to Calgary. "We haven't finished particularly well the last three games, and it's definitely showing on the scoreboard. You just have to concentrate in that last half-second to see where you're going to shoot and put it in."

Who's hot: Chicago forward Marian Hossa has scored goals in two straight games, has scored a goal in seven of the past 10 contests and has recorded at least a point in eight of the past 10. … Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his past 10 starts.

Injury report: Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is on long-term injured reserve and expected to miss the season after rotator cuff surgery. … Sharks forward Tyler Kennedy missed the game in Calgary with an undisclosed injury and San Jose has four players on injured reserve: forward Adam Burish (back), Couture (hand surgery), Tomas Hertl (knee surgery) and forward Raffi Torres (knee surgery).

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