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Canucks-Sharks Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Vancouver Canucks (41-31-8) at San Jose Sharks (42-26-11).

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

With eight wins in their first 10 games, the Vancouver Canucks were touted by some as early Stanley Cup favorites. Instead, they're struggling just to make the postseason.

The Canucks' playoff hopes may hang in the balance as they try to slow down the streaking San Jose Sharks when the teams wrap up a home-and-home series.

Vancouver is in ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Edmonton for the eighth and final playoff spot. While this game is being played, Anaheim visits Edmonton.

If Vancouver loses in regulation and Edmonton wins its game, the Canucks miss the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

"We have to win," Vancouver's Brendan Morrison said. "We've had a lot of favors handed to us and we haven't capitalized. We have to win our next two games and that's the bottom line."

The Canucks could have moved into a tie with the Oilers for the final playoff spot on Wednesday, but San Jose's Joe Thornton made sure that did not happen.

Thornton recorded his fourth assist on Christian Ehrhoff's goal 34 seconds into overtime, helping San Jose clinch a playoff spot with a 5-4 win.

Thornton also assisted on Scott Hannan's tying goal with just over four minutes to play in regulation.

San Jose, which has won six in a row, was 8-12-4 before acquiring the top overall pick from the 1997 entry draft in a blockbuster trade with Boston on Nov. 30. The Sharks are 34-14-7 since Thornton's arrival.

"We got in trouble early but we've done this all year long, we just come back and never give up," said Thornton, who has tallied 86 of his 119 points this season with his new team.

"If you told people three months ago this team was going to make the playoffs, they would have said 'no,' but we just have great character."

Thornton has three goals and 10 assists in a six-game points streak.

"We let him skate from one end to the other without touching him," Canucks defenseman Ed Jovanovski said of Thornton. "A Bantam player could have skated up the ice and made a play. We respected him way too much, way too much. That's the bottom line."

Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for two goals and four assists for Vancouver, but were a minus-6 in the loss.

The Canucks will go with Alexander Auld in goal for the 14th straight game. Auld, who inherited the starting job after Dan Cloutier was lost for the season with a knee injury, will make his first career start in San Jose.

STANDINGS: Canucks - 90 points, 4th place, 10 PB, Northwest Division. Sharks - 95 points, 3rd place, 14 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canucks - Anson Carter, 32 goals; Henrik Sedin, 56 assists; Markus Naslund, 76 points; Jarkko Ruutu, 142 PIM. Sharks - Jonathan Cheechoo, 51 goals; Thornton, 91 assists and 119 points; Mark Smith, 97 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Canucks - Power play: 18.3 percent (94 for 514), 12th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (406 for 496), 15th. Sharks - Power play: 17.8 percent (85 for 479), 20th. Penalty killing: 81.2 percent (311 for 383), 21st.

GOALTENDERS: Canucks - Auld (33-25-6, 0 SO, 2.92 GAA); Mika Noronen (1-3-0, 0, 4.15). Sharks - Vesa Toskala (22-7-4, 2, 2.54); Evgeni Nabokov (15-18-7, 1, 3.08).

SEASON SERIES: Canucks, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Wednesday; Sharks, 5-4 (OT). At Vancouver, British Columbia, Ehrhoff's goal 34 seconds into overtime lifted San Jose into the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canucks - 17-21-2 on the road; Sharks - 23-8-7 at home.

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