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Lightning can claim first with win against Sharks

by Brian Hunter

SHARKS (30-12-6) at LIGHTNING (28-15-5)


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

Season series: This is the second of two games between the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning. Tommy Wingels scored twice while Patrick Marleau had a goal and two assists to lead the Sharks to a 5-1 win on Nov. 21 in San Jose.

Big story: The Lightning would claim first place in the Atlantic Division with a win. Meanwhile, in spite of the dizzying pace at which the Anaheim Ducks are racking up points, the Sharks aren't waving the white flag and surrendering the Pacific Division title just yet. They aim for a sweep of a three-game road trip against Eastern Conference opponents on Saturday before returning to SAP Center at San Jose for a four-game homestand.

Team Scope:

Sharks: Antti Niemi made 36 saves in the previous game against Tampa Bay, and it's likely San Jose's No. 1 goaltender will be back in net Saturday afternoon despite the terrific effort turned in by Alex Stalock in a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. In his 14th NHL game, Stalock stopped 24 shots for his first career shutout.

Joe Thornton, who leads the League with 45 assists, scored his sixth goal of the season and it held up as the game-winner. Thornton has only 15 more shots on goal than assists, but he found himself on a breakaway with 50.2 seconds left in the middle period and made the most of going solo.

"You know, Jumbo, I think he's like wine. He gets better with age," coach Todd McLellan said in the San Jose Mercury News. "Great hands, very soft play."

Lightning: Boston passed Tampa Bay for the Atlantic lead on Nov. 19, but the Lightning can regain it for the first time since with the Bruins idle Saturday. They'll also be looking to bounce back from a frustrating 2-1 shootout loss Thursday to the visiting New York Islanders.

Ben Bishop has allowed two goals on 64 shots (.969 save percentage) since returning from an injury that sidelined him briefly, but a power-play goal by Martin St. Louis at 5:45 of the first period was all the support he got against the Islanders. The Lightning were also thwarted on all three attempts in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.

The loss to the Islanders kept the Lightning winless at home since Dec. 21, though two of the four losses have come in shootouts.

"We do know the reality is that we haven't won in our last four games at home," defenseman Mark Barberio told the team website Friday. "But I think you have to look at the performances we've been putting in. Even in the last game, I thought we played well. When you get to a shootout, anything can happen. In the end, if you're putting in the right performances and the right effort, you're going to get the results."

Who's hot: Sharks forward Joe Pavelski has 13 goals in his past 18 games. … St. Louis has four goals and three assists during a six-game point streak for the Lightning.

Injury report: Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan (head) and forwards Logan Couture (hand), Marty Havlat (lower body), Tomas Hertl (knee), Adam Burish (lower body) and Raffi Torres (knee) are on injured reserve. … Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (broken leg) took the morning skate on Thursday as he continues pushing toward a pre-Olympic return. He remains on injured reserve with defenseman Keith Aulie (hand).

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