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Flyers, Sharks ready to return from break

by Sean McCullen

SHARKS (37-16-6) at FLYERS (30-23-6)


Last 10: San Jose 6-4-0; Philadelphia 5-4-1

Season series: The Philadelphia Flyers scored four unanswered goals in the third period to beat the San Jose Sharks 5-2 at SAP Center on Feb. 3 in the first of two games between the teams.

Big story: Forwards Logan Couture and Raffi Torres return to the lineup for San Jose. Couture (hand) hasn't played since Jan. 5, and Torres (knee) makes his season debut.

This is each team's first game back after the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Sharks had four players participate in the Olympics; the Flyers had five.

The Sharks' Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic won gold medals with Canada's 3-0 win against Sweden on Sunday. Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who did not see any action in Sochi, earned bronze medals with Finland's 5-0 win against Sharks forward Joe Pavelski and the United States on Saturday.

Timonen will not play against San Jose, according to Flyers coach Craig Berube, who said the veteran defenseman needs a few practices to get his legs back after returning from Russia. The Flyers' other Olympians -- Mark Streit, Michael Raffl, Andrej Meszaros and Jakub Voracek -- will be in the lineup.

All four Olympians on the Sharks roster will likely play Thursday.

Team Scope:

Sharks: San Jose has a firm grasp on a top-two finish in the Pacific Division, with a 10-point lead on the third-place Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks trail the Anaheim Ducks by seven points in the Pacific race; the Ducks lead the NHL with 87 points.

The Sharks won three of four games before the Olympic break, the lone loss coming to the Flyers. They beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 on Feb. 7 in their final game before the break.

Marleau, who practiced Wednesday for the first time since returning from Sochi, says it won't be tough to focus on the job at hand after winning gold in Sochi.

"Now it's about the Sharks and winning here," he said. "Having a lot of guys come back, there's a lot of good excitement about our team right now, I feel."

Flyers: Philadelphia's four-game winning streak was the longest in the NHL entering the Olympic break. The Flyers beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 on Feb. 8 in their final game before the break. Ray Emery made 32 saves to earn the victory.

The Flyers' strong finish before the nearly three-week break has them three points ahead of the Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Center Brayden Schenn acknowledged it will take some time for players to get their game legs back following the break.

"I don't think we're going to be in as good of game shape as when we left," Schenn said. "That's obviously going to take some time. I think we're going to be in the same boat as everyone else throughout the League though, so I think it's going to be more about the mental game for Thursday night."

Who's hot: San Jose center Tommy Wingels has four points (two goals) in the past five games. He scored the game-winning goal in each of the past two games. … Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason earned shutouts in two of his past five starts. He was 4-1-0 with a 1.41 goals-against average and .955 save percentage over that stretch.

Injury report: Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart (upper body) won't play on the team's three-game road trip. Forward Tomas Hertl (knee) is on injured reserve but skated for the first time Thursday since his injury.

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