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League-leading Sharks play host to Wild

by Matthew Mankiewich
WILD (27-23-4) at SHARKS (35-10-9)

Last 10 --
Minnesota 6-3-1; San Jose 7-1-2

Season series --
Second of four meetings this season. The Sharks won 4-2 back on Oct. 10, despite 40 shots on goal by the Wild. Evgeni Nabokov held off the Minnesota attack long enough for San Jose to come back from 2-0 down. It was the second of a five-game slide in a notoriously slow start for the Wild, one they've been fighting to overcome all season.

Big story --
The Sharks are fresh off one of their biggest challenges of the season, a hard-fought 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that's leaving a bad taste in more than a few Bay Area mouths. They face a Wild team that continues to struggle on the road, but started their current road trip with a nice 1-0 win over the Avalanche.

Team scope:

Wild --
Backup goalie Josh Harding was the stuff of legend Thursday night against Colorado. Thrust into the starting role by Niklas Backstrom's injury, he aggravated his own injured hip with a big stop on Matt Duchene's third-period shot. He managed to play out the game in pain and preserve a 1-0 win. The main reason he had to was because backup Wade Dubielewicz had arrived only 13 minutes before game time and simply wasn't ready.

"I knew I wasn't coming out," Harding told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Dubie just flew in. He didn't even make warmups. So there was no way I was ever going to put a goalie in a position like that."

The win ended a five-game road losing streak, as Martin Havlat scored the lone goal of the game with under five minutes remaining.

Sharks --
The Blackhawks came into HP Pavilion on a mission to get a step closer to wresting the top seed in the NHL from the Sharks, who have occupied the spot most of the season.

The Hawks quickly racked up three goals, but two tallies by Joe Pavelski and one by Manny Malhotra rallied the Sharks, who eventually lost 4-3 in overtime on Troy Brouwer's second goal of the night.

"We're all going to talk about how hard we fought and we worked our way back into the game but that start was unacceptable," coach Todd McLellan said. "The mistakes we made the first five minutes of the game, that's not a characteristic of ours and is unacceptable. Yeah we fought back and we are proud of that but you're not going to win many games against good teams in this League with that kind of start."

Who's hot --
Malhotra has turned it up lately for the Sharks with seven points in his last six games. Patrick Marleau may not have found the net the last two games, but his 35 goals are still good enough for the League lead. Pavelski has had back-to-back two-goal games and has a total of 11 points in his last six. That came after a seven-game point drought.

Havlat is running a six-game point streak for the Wild, while Harding is 3-1-0 in his last four starts, allowing only one goal in his last two, both wins.

Injury report -- Backstrom's stiff back won Harding the Colorado start, kept him out of practice Friday and will be reassessed Saturday. Veteran forward and former Shark Owen Nolan left the ice in pain Thursday after blocking a shot, while Derek Boogaard (hamstring) missed his second game in a row. Both are questionable for Saturday night. 

Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (upper body) has been out three games and did not declare himself ready to go on Friday. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower body) was evaluated by the medical staff and did not practice. He had left the Chicago game after one period and was labeled "questionable" by McLellan, who had Brad Staubitz suit up as a defenseman.

Stat pack --
For Harding, the Colorado win was his fourth career shutout and first since Oct. 14, 2007. It was also the first time he'd started back-to-back games since Dec. 14-15, 2007, road wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles. He has stopped 128 of 132 shots in his last six appearances, dropping his season goals-against average from 3.47 to 2.64. Of his 55 career starts, 40 have come on the road.

Puck drop --
"It's been our Achilles' heel. We really can't win on the road, and all of a sudden we put in an effort like that. Everybody was tired." -- Harding on the win in Colorado.

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