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Lightning pay rare visit to San Jose

by Matthew Mankiewich

LIGHTNING (14-16-2) at SHARKS (17-10-3)

TV: SUN (HD), CSN-California (HD)

LAST 10: Tampa Bay 3-7-0, San Jose 4-4-2

Season Series: It's the first of two matchups this season, the first two-game set since 2008-09. Overall, the Sharks have won five of the last six meetings and three in a row at home, outscoring the Bolts 24-11 in that stretch. The Lightning haven't won in San Jose since 2002-03, but have a 6-6-1 record there since their inaugural season of 1992-93.

Big Story: Both teams seem to have gotten back on track after weeks of struggles. The Lightning have put together back-to-back wins for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend, and the Sharks have done likewise after a slightly longer drought dating back to the Wednesday before. The Sharks have the opportunity to pad their record as they work through the third of a six-game homestand that pits them against five teams currently out of playoff spots. The Lightning will finish their western swing in Colorado but will have the Flyers waiting for them when they get home.

Team Scope:

Lightning: It's not as if Steven Stamkos was slumping. He is, of course, the NHL's leading goal-scorer with 20 and his 37 points are good for fifth place in the League. It's that his scoring has mattered more with Martin St. Louis out of action. He has three goals and four assists in the last three games, including back-to-back game-winners.

"When you're winning games, you're gaining confidence," Stamkos said. "You're going out and doing things and not thinking about them. When we were on our skid there, maybe you're thinking too much; you don't want to make a mistake.

"Things are obviously going better now."

Sharks: Saturday was a good night for a number of reasons. The power play went a perfect 2-for-2, Joe Thornton stopped a 13-game goal-scoring drought, Martin Havlat ended a 17-game schneid and the Sharks won their third straight at home over the Oilers, 3-2.

Only one thing made it less than perfect. Midway through the third period, Havlat landed wrong after jumping the boards on a line change, injuring his left leg. As the days have gone by, the prognosis looks more ominous.

"He'll be out at least through Christmas and then will be evaluated more in the next few days," coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "It's probably a little bit more longer-term that we originally thought. But we won't put a timeline on it. It just happens. It was a freak accident. It happens to every team at some point and there's nothing we can do about it. We just have to get him healthy and get him back to how he was beginning to play."

Who's Hot: The most disappointing thing about Havlat's injury was that he had started to heat up with three points in his last two games. Mathieu Garon's play in the Bolts' recent resurgence has begun to spark a goaltending controversy. He has played in six straight games, starting five, and is expected to start again against the Sharks, as coach Guy Boucher rides the hot hand. His counterpart on the other end of the ice, Antti Niemi, is 8-2-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average over his last 10 home games.

Injury Report: Sharks defensemen Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer practiced Tuesday but shouldn't be expected back until at least Friday against the Kings. Dan Boyle had been playing with a broken foot since Nov. 10, but didn't miss any time. … St. Louis is on the trip and skated Tuesday, but there's still no timetable for his return from the eye injury he suffered Dec. 8. Forward Nate Thompson and defenseman Matt Gilroy are still day-to-day with lower-body injuries.

Stat Pack: The Sharks are 41-6-1 in the 48 games in which Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have both scored goals dating back to Thornton's arrival in San Jose midway through the 2005-06 season. The Sharks' 73.6 percent penalty kill is second to last in the NHL ahead of Toronto. … Saturday's game at Columbus was only the second time the Bolts had a two-goal lead on the road this season. The first was opening night in Carolina, a 5-1 win.

Puck Drop: "You don't mention it. People can say what they want. It's hard. Sometimes, when your ego is talking, you want to say 'I'm hurt here.' There's an inside voice that wants to say that. But I think hockey players are kind of conditioned to turn the cheek, take your lumps and keep it within." -- Boyle in the Mercury News on why he kept his broken foot secret despite criticisms that his game had been slowing down

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