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Daily Primer March 20: Pacific powers square off @NHLdotcom

First place in the Pacific Division is on the line Thursday night.

The San Jose Sharks' 8-2-1 surge following the 2014 Sochi Olympics has coincided with a so-so 4-3-2 stretch by the Anaheim Ducks, meaning that the team that skates off the ice at SAP Center with the victory will go home with the top spot in the division. Each team has 97 points, but the Ducks have a game in hand.

History is on the Sharks' side: They have won the past four games between the teams in San Jose and are 12-4-1 against the Ducks at home since the start of 2008.

Here's a look at all of the action Thursday:

Minnesota Wild at New Jersey Devils -- Zach Parise will hear cheers when he steps on to the ice at Prudential Center, as he has dozens of times before. The difference is that this time, he'll be wearing an opponent's uniform. Parise, who left the Devils to sign with the Wild as a free agent in July 2012, makes his first visit to his former home when Minnesota completes a three-game trip with a stop in Newark. He hopes his return is as successful as the one enjoyed by teammate Matt Moulson, who had two goals at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday in a 6-0 win against the New York Islanders. The Devils, who lost to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday with Martin Brodeur in goal, will start Cory Schneider as they try to stay in the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

Dallas Stars at Philadelphia Flyers -- Back-to-back road losses to the Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins have dropped the Stars out of the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference. Dallas has been outscored 12-3 in the two games. Philadelphia has won three in a row: a home-and-home sweep of Pittsburgh last weekend, followed by a 3-2 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. The Flyers are in second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Montreal Canadiens -- The Blue Jackets begin a vital back-to-back with a visit to Bell Centre before returning home to host the New York Rangers on Friday. Columbus is coming off a 3-1 home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday when it carried play for most of the night and finished with a 47-20 advantage in shots but managed only a last-minute goal by Boone Jenner. The Canadiens are coming off a 6-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday in which NHL Trade Deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek scored his first three goals since coming to Montreal 15 days ago. Montreal is third in the Atlantic Division; Columbus owns the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Ottawa Senators -- The Lightning climbed into second place in the Atlantic Division on Wednesday by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 with a natural hat trick by Steven Stamkos. The Lightning and Canadiens each have 83 points, but Tampa Bay has a game in hand. Ottawa's playoff hopes are growing dimmer by the day. The Senators have lost four in a row and were torched 8-4 by the Rangers on Tuesday at Canadian Tire Centre, leaving Ottawa seven points out of a playoff berth in the East.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings -- The Penguins bounced back from a weekend sweep by the Flyers with a 5-1 home win against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, but begin the night five points behind the Boston Bruins in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. At least the Penguins can be confident they're going to the playoffs; the Red Wings, seeking their 23rd consecutive trip to the postseason, begins the night on the outside looking in, one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals. Defenseman Adam Almquist is the latest call-up by the Red Wings, who lost defenseman Jonathan Ericsson with a broken finger in a 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Buffalo Sabres at Edmonton Oilers -- Matt Hackett gets his turn in goal for Buffalo, which hasn’t lost at Rexall Center since October 2003 but hasn't won anywhere since defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 6. Hackett will be the fifth goaltender to start for the Sabres since play resumed after the Olympics; Ryan Miller was traded to the St. Louis Blues; Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are injured; and rookie Nathan Lieuwen played in a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, Buffalo's seventh consecutive defeat. The Oilers opened a six-game homestand Tuesday by routing the Nashville Predators 5-1.

Florida Panthers at Phoenix Coyotes -- The Panthers and Coyotes are meeting for the second time in nine days; Phoenix won 3-1 at BB&T Center on March 11. It's Florida's first trip to the desert since Dec. 4, 2010, but Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo is more than familiar with Arena from his days with the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo, acquired by Florida on March 4, made 52 saves Tuesday, allowing the Panthers to open a tough four-game trip with a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks. The Coyotes are home after a 4-3 road win against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday that moved them into the final wild-card position in the Western Conference.

Washington Capitals at Los Angeles Kings -- Capitals coach Adam Oates was preaching the theme of "got to win them all" before this week's three-game California trip. Washington got off to a good start on Tuesday by defeating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2, a game when Alex Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal on a third-period power play and the penalty-killers were 5-for-5. Los Angeles has lost three in a row after an eight-game winning streak and is coming off a 4-3 home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes when it failed to get at least one point when leading after two periods for the first time since April 4, 2009.

Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks -- Expect lots of physical play when two of the NHL's biggest teams battle for first place, but don't expect a lot of power-play goals. Anaheim has scored two man-advantage goals in its past 15 games; the Sharks are 4-for-65 in their past 20 games. San Jose comes into the game having won six of its past seven; the loss came Tuesday when 54 shots against the Florida Panthers weren't enough to prevent a 3-2 loss. The Ducks held a back-to-basics practice Wednesday rather than work on their struggling special teams, which came up short in a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals. Anaheim found out Wednesday it will be without defenseman Cam Fowler for 3-5 weeks because of a sprained MCL in his left knee.

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