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Division leaders square off as Canucks visit Sharks

by Brian Hunter
CANUCKS (45-25-4) at SHARKS (45-19-10)

Last 10: Vancouver 6-2-2; San Jose 4-5-1

Season series: Third of four meetings. The teams have split a pair of matchups at GM Place in Vancouver, with the Sharks getting 28 saves from Evgeni Nabokov in a 4-2 win on Nov. 29 and the Canucks answering with a 3-2 victory on March 18 as Roberto Luongo stopped 32 shots.

Big story:
A couple of division leaders square off at the Shark Tank. San Jose begins play Saturday as the top seed in the Western Conference, but could find itself in fourth if red-hot Phoenix catches up in the Pacific Division race. The Sharks also hold a slim one-point lead over Central leader Chicago for the No. 1 seed. Vancouver, meanwhile, holds down the third seed as the first-place team in the Northwest. The Canucks hold a five-point lead over Colorado.

Team Scope:

Canucks: Although Vancouver gets to enjoy plenty of home cooking down the stretch after returning from a marathon 14-game road trip, the Canucks will play three of their next four away from GM Place. They are 2-2-1 over their last five games, but come off a 4-1 win Wednesday over a desperate Anaheim squad. Henrik Sedin's three assists gave him 99 points, one more than Alex Ovechkin for the League lead in scoring.

"Hopefully first of all we can win the division and we'll see how (the scoring race) works out," Sedin said. "It's a milestone not a while lot of Swedish players have done."

While the season will ultimately be judged by how San Jose fares in the playoffs, there was plenty of concern surrounding the team during a recent 0-5-1 stretch. Fortunately for the Sharks, they seem to have rebounded with consecutive wins that vaulted them back into the West lead. Nabokov, who struggled quite a bit during the skid, has given up just one goal on 46 shots against in the last two games. He earned his 50th career shutout Thursday in a 3-0 win over Dallas.

"As much as it's about us coming out of the forest, it's great to see Nabby only giving up one goal in the last two games," coach Todd McLellan said.

Who's hot: Henrik Sedin has five assists in the Canucks' last three games and has tied his career high with 71. Daniel Sedin has three goals and two assists over his last three games.

Joe Thornton has a four-game points streak for the Sharks, with a goal and three assists. Dan Boyle has two goals and two assists over his last four games. Rob Blake has a goal and three assists in the last two games.

Injury report: Vancouver forward Pavol Demitra is out of the lineup due to personal reasons. Forward Mikael Samuelsson is sidelined through the end of the month with an upper-body injury. Forward Steve Bernier (sports hernia) and defenseman Willie Mitchell (concussion) are on injured reserve.

Blake is dealing with a bruised right knee, but the San Jose defenseman is expected to play. Forward Scott Nichol is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Stat pack: Nabokov has won four consecutive home starts against the Canucks with an 0.99 goals-against average, while Luongo is just 2-4-1 in his last seven starts against the Sharks, despite a respectable 2.71 GAA.

Puck drop:
In addition to Henrik Sedin being one point shy of 100, Daniel Sedin has at least one point in 14 of his last 15 games, the exception being the last time Vancouver met San Jose.

"Knowing Henrik the way I know him and knowing Danny the way I know both those guys, they know that for them to be useful for our team, they've got to produce points," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "But they want to win, that's the bottom line."

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