SHARKS (43-17-10) at FLAMES (35-26-9)
San Jose 4-5-1; Calgary 6-4-0
Third of four meetings this season. The teams have split a pair of games played at the Shark Tank. Miikka Kiprusoff
stopped 35 shots and Daymond Langkow
scored the game-winner as Calgary got a leg up with a 2-1 win on Dec. 5. But San Jose responded big-time with a 9-1 rout on Jan. 18, part of a nine-game losing streak for the Flames that first thrust their postseason aspirations into doubt.
It's a big night in the battle for the final Western Conference playoff berth. Detroit, which leads Calgary by a single point, is still out in western Canada after edging the Flames earlier this week. The Red Wings play a game they will be favored to win against the cellar-dwelling Oilers, but the Flames can't worry what's going on elsewhere -- they have to focus on getting two points against a very tough opponent and at the very least maintaining the status quo.
Take a team like San Jose with its history of early playoff ousters and panic will start to rise any time it struggles this late in the season. The Sharks haven't had an easy time of things since returning to play following the Olympics. They won three in a row at one point, but had to rally in the third period each time. Since then they've dropped four in a row, including a 3-2 loss in Vancouver on Friday that left them winless halfway through a six-game road trip.
"I thought for two periods we worked real hard and made them battle for every inch of ice they got," coach Todd McLellan said. "I feel a lot better about tonight's game when we get on the flight (to Calgary) than I did leaving Dallas. The effort was a lot stronger tonight, and sometimes that's the turning point."
Kiprusoff was pulled the last time these teams played after giving up six goals on 34 shots, but he'll be back in goal Friday. However, in the event Calgary needs to give its No. 1 goaltender a night off, new backup Vesa Toskala has inspired confidence in his teammates since being acquired at the trade deadline. Toskala improved to 2-0 with the Flames after stopping 32 shots in a 3-2 win over the Avalanche on Wednesday.
"He is a quality goaltender," coach Brent Sutter said. "He has been a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. In the two games he has played, I've been very happy with him. I have no problem playing Vesa any time."
Who's hot: Joe Pavelski
has five goals and five assists in the Sharks' eight games since the Olympic break. … Rene Bourque
scored shorthanded and on the power play for the Flames in their win on Wednesday.
San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
is on injured reserve with a knee injury. … Calgary forward Curtis Glencross
will miss Friday's game with a knee injury while forward Christopher Higgins is day-to-day with a foot injury.
The Sharks' 17 regulation losses are the second fewest in the League (the Capitals have 14), but their 10 losses in either overtime or the shootout are tied for the ninth most (along with the Capitals and Sabres). … The Flames have the third-lowest goals-per-game average at 2.49, but the third-best goals-against average at 2.40.
"That was embarrassing. They beat us pretty handily," Calgary forward Craig Conroy
said of the Jan. 18 game against San Jose.
This time, the Flames have the advantage of being rested and on home ice while the Sharks had to play the previous night and then travel.
"Any time we get a team that is on a back-to-back we have to take advantage of it," Conroy said.