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Blues-Sharks Preview

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GAME: St. Louis Blues (20-32-11) at San Jose Sharks (31-23-9).

TIME: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo is quietly becoming an NHL superstar.

Cheechoo will try to help the Sharks inch closer to a playoff spot when they meet the resurgent St. Louis Blues at HP Pavilion.

The Sharks are in 10th place in the West, five points behind Edmonton and Vancouver for one of the Western Conference's final two postseason berths. San Jose, however, has an advantage with three games in hand over the Oilers and four over the Canucks, whom the Sharks play in a home-and-home series April 12-13.

Cheechoo set a Sharks record with his fourth hat trick of the season, and became just the second player in team history to reach 40 goals in San Jose's 4-3 win Monday over Los Angeles.

All three of Cheechoo's goals came off assists from league points leader Joe Thornton.

"He never gives up on a play," said Thornton, who also tops the NHL with 70 assists. "He's just always around the net. It's great to play with him."

Cheechoo has scored six goals in seven games since the Olympic break and needs five to set a Sharks single-season record. Owen Nolan had 44 in 1999-2000.

"Joe does a great job drawing double-teams and fighting off guys, and I just pick up the garbage in front," Cheechoo said. "I just always play hard, and if it happens, it happens. ... It's amazing to play with him, and we're making up points against teams ahead of us in the standings."

The Cheechoo-Thornton duo will not have to contend with Blues starting goaltender Curtis Sanford, who is out for the season due to a sprained knee suffered on Monday in a 3-2 overtime win over Columbus.

Sanford was in goal for 13 of the Blues' 20 wins this season, and went 7-1-1 in his last nine decisions.

His absence leaves the goaltending duties to veteran Patrick Lalime and Reinhard Divis, who was called up from Peoria of the AHL. Divis, who last appeared for the Blues on Dec. 26, was 16-10-2 with a 2.77 goals-against average with Peoria.

Lalime won for the first time since Dec. 1 when he made 14 saves in relief of Sanford on Monday.

Though they're almost assured of not making the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, the Blues are staying competitive. Since the Olympic break, St. Louis has alternated wins and losses in seven contests.

Christian Backman appeared to score 3:49 into overtime Monday, but the result was delayed while officials gathered to review if the Blue Jackets' Trevor Letowski scored on a shot that hit the goal post seconds earlier.

Backman's goal stood after a delay of nearly five minutes.

"I don't know if I've ever scored a goal that didn't count, but here I almost had two," said Backman, who had a goal waived off earlier because of illegal contact with Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire. "At first, I thought it must be a goal. Then I figured they were looking at their chance."

The Blues have killed off 21 straight power plays over the last five games.

STANDINGS: Blues - 51 points, 4th place, 44 PB, Central Division. Sharks - 71 points, 4th place, 18 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blues - Dean McAmmond, 15 goals; Petr Cajanek, 29 assists; Scott Young, 42 points; Barret Jackman, 133 PIM. Sharks - Cheechoo, 40 goals; Thornton, 70 assists and 95 points; Mark Smith, 81 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Blues - Power play: 15.8 percent (64 for 405), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (301 for 366), 16th. Sharks - Power play: 17.7 percent (68 for 384), 15th. Penalty killing: 81.5 percent (256 for 314), 20th.

GOALTENDERS: Blues - Lalime (4-11-6, 0 SO, 3.61 GAA); Divis (0-3-0, 4.75). Sharks - Vesa Toskala (12-6-2, 2.89); Evgeni Nabokov (14-16-7, 1, 2.98).

SEASON SERIES: 1-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 23; Blues, 2-1 (SO). At San Jose, Calif., Cajanek scored the decisive goal in the fourth round of the shootout. The Blues' Ryan Johnson and San Jose's Nils Ekman traded third-period goals.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blues - 9-17-6 on the road; Sharks - 20-7-5 at home.

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