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Hurricanes-Sharks Preview

GAME: Carolina Hurricanes (18-8-2) at San Jose Sharks (12-12-4).

TIME: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

It has taken the San Jose Sharks just four games to forget about their longest losing streak in 12 years. The difference has been Joe Thronton.

Thornton looks to help San Jose to its fifth straight win when they meet the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hours after a Nov. 30 loss to the Dallas Stars extended San Jose's losing streak to 10 games, the Sharks acquired Thornton - the top overall pick from the 1997 draft - as part of a four-player deal from the Boston Bruins.

Since then, the Sharks have been on goal-scoring tear. The Sharks have scored at least five goals in four consecutive victories for the first time in franchise history.

Center Patrick Marleau scored a goal and added two assists to lead San Jose to a 6-2 victory Thursday over the Florida Panthers. Marleau recorded his fourth straight three-point game and set a franchise record with 12 points in four games.

Joe Thornton notched two assists to give him eight points since joining the Sharks.

"It's just a combination of some new linemates and everybody playing together," said Marleau. "We've got that sense of urgency back that we were lacking. (The trade) definitely shook things up, but Joe's linemates are a big part of it, too."

Mark Smith scored two goals while Scott Thornton, Joe's cousin, had a goal and an assist.

"We're playing with a lot more confidence," said Smith, who had the first multi-goal game of his career.

Evgeni Nabokov made 34 saves after missing two games with a groin injury to help the Sharks return to .500 for the first time since Nov. 16.

San Jose also represents the final stop on a season-high six-game road trip for the Hurricanes. Carolina improved to 3-2 on the road trip with a 3-2 victory Thursday over the Los Angeles Kings.

Erik Cole snapped a 13-game goal-scoring drought with two goals and Justin Williams also scored before leaving with midway through the game with a foot injury.

Goaltender Martin Gerber, a backup with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2003-04, has recorded wins in his last two starts, stopping 70 of 74 shots faced.

"We didn't see Marty play last year, but the one thing he was missing was an opportunity to be a number one goalie," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think it's good for him and good for the team that he's playing well."

Gerber is 3-2 with a 1.93 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and one shutout in his career against the Sharks.

Carolina has dropped four of its last five against San Jose.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 9): Hurricanes - 38 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Sharks - 28 points, 5th place, 9 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Eric Staal, 20 goals, 21 assists and 41 points; Mike Commodore, 55 PIM. Sharks - Marleau, 12 goals; Joe Thornton, 31 assists and 41 points; Smith, 42 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 9): Hurricanes - Power play: 19.1 percent (34 for 178), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.2 percent (126 for 161), 29th. Sharks - Power play: 15.8 percent (28 for 177), 20th (tied). Penalty killing: 82.3 percent (112 for 136), 15th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Gerber (12-5-1, 2 SO, 2.53 GAA); Cam Ward (6-3-1, 4.05). Sharks - Nabokov (5-7-4, 3.11); Vesa Toskala (2-4-0, 4.47).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 28, 2003; Hurricanes, 3-0. At Raleigh, N.C., Josef Vasicek tallied a hat trick for the Hurricanes while Kevin Weekes stopped 28 shots to earn the shutout.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hurricanes - 9-4-2 on the road; Sharks - 6-3-2 at home.

Associated Press
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