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Division leaders square off as Sharks battle Hawks

by Brian Hunter /

SHARKS (14-4-3) at BLACKHAWKS (11-5-2)

Last 10 -- San Jose 8-0-2; Chicago 6-3-1

Season series --
First of four meetings this season, with Chicago paying a visit to San Jose 10 days after the initial matchup. Each team won once at home and once on the road last season. Both games at the United Center ended with 6-5 final scores.

Big story -- After splitting their first half dozen games on home ice, the Blackhawks have won six straight, their longest streak since 2002. In the most recent victory, 3-2 over Toronto on Friday, a season-high 21,036 filled the arena. If they want to make it seven, all they have to do is find a way past a Sharks squad that is 9-0-2 since losing in Tampa Bay on Oct. 22 and leads the NHL with 31 points.

Team scope:

Sharks -- Goals by Dany Heatley and Jed Ortmeyer just 16 seconds apart turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead midway through the second period Saturday night as San Jose went on to win in St. Louis for the eighth time in 10 visits. Joe Thornton put the finishing touches on a 3-1 final with a power-play empty-netter. Evgeni Nabokov, who has started 19 of 21 games this season, withstood a heavy workload to finish with 38 saves.

Blackhawks --
Cristobal Huet got off to a rough start, but the Chicago goalie has won six of his last eight starts, giving up two goals or less seven times and one goal or less four times. Huet stopped 29 shots against the Maple Leafs, lowering his goals-against average to 2.19 and raising his save percentage to .905 for the season.

"Huet made the saves when we needed him. And for the most part we did a good job of keeping pressure on and not giving up too much," defenseman Duncan Keith said.

Who's hot --
Heatley's goal was his third in four games and gave the Sharks forward a four-game points streak. Dan Boyle's two assists gave the defenseman six points (two goals, four assists) in his last four games, along with a plus-6 rating. Nabokov has given up two goals or less in eight straight games, and one goal or less in six of those eight. He's 7-0-2 in his last nine starts.

In addition to Huet's recent heroics in net, the Blackhawks have gotten consistent offense from Patrick Kane, who has goals in consecutive games and eight points during a six-game points streak. Patrick Sharp has five assists in his last four games and Keith has two goals and five points during the same span.

Injury report --
San Jose captain Rob Blake is likely to miss a couple weeks with an upper-body injury, while forward Jody Shelley has missed the last three games due to general soreness.

Chicago center Dave Bolland is out after undergoing back surgery. Forward Marian Hossa has started participating in light contact drills as he works his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.

Stat pack --
If Nabokov gets the nod again Sunday, he'll be shooting for his League-leading 13th win. He's currently tied with Buffalo's Ryan Miller and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur. Nabokov also ranks third in save percentage (.930) and fourth in goals-against average (2.06).

Puck drop --
San Jose's goal this season is to put years of playoff futility in the past -- if the Sharks have designs on the Stanley Cup, there's a good chance Chicago will be one of the teams they'll have to go through along the way. This is a matchup worthy of being the only game in prime time on Sunday.

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