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Olympians abound as Sharks host Devils

by Brian Hunter
DEVILS (37-21-3) at SHARKS (40-13-9)

Last 10: New Jersey 3-5-2; San Jose 6-3-1

Season series: This is the only meeting between these teams during the 2009-10 season. They last met on Feb. 15, 2009, with David Clarkson scoring a pair of goals -- including the power-play game-winner -- in a 6-5 win for the Devils at the Prudential Center in New Jersey.

Big story:
As the post-Olympic stretch of the NHL season begins, there will be a total of eight players on these teams who took part in the riveting Canada-United States gold-medal game on Sunday. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle of the Sharks all tasted gold for the Canadians, as did Martin Brodeur of the Devils, who was the backup to Roberto Luongo. Joe Pavelski of the Sharks and Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner of the Devils participated for the USA.

Team Scope:

Devils: Lackluster play in the month prior to the Olympic break saw New Jersey's lead in the Atlantic Division over Pittsburgh trimmed to a single point.

Brodeur ended up getting more of a rest in Vancouver than originally expected, starting just two games before Luongo was handed the reins. Parise and Langenbrunner spent much of the tournament on either side of Colorado's Paul Stastny as Team USA's top line. Parise scored one of the most memorable goals in U.S. Olympic history when he tied Sunday's game with 24.4 seconds remaining, but he and Langenbrunner had to settle for silver when Sidney Crosby scored in overtime.

"It's tough," said Langenbrunner, who served as the U.S. captain, the same role he holds with the Devils. "You have to love the character and grit we have shown this whole tournament. We battled hard all tournament. We showed a lot of heart; scoring that goal with 20 seconds to go to force overtime. We really believed this was going to happen for us, but great players do great things and that is what happened tonight. It was a great goal by (Crosby) and tough for us."

The defending Presidents' Trophy winners are in the hunt once again. San Jose leads the Western Conference with 89 points, one behind Washington for the NHL lead.

The Sharks practiced Monday, but without the five players who still had to travel back after playing in the gold-medal game. Coach Todd McLellan was proud of all his players who competed in the Olympics, but particularly impressed by the mettle shown by the four Canadians who led the country to gold when nothing else would do.

"They were thrown in an immense pressure situation and found a way to win," he said. "Not just being on the team, but contributing. They won in one of the most pressure packed situations they can be in."

Who's hot:
Even before the Olympics, Parise was scorching. He scored in each of New Jersey's last three games prior to the break.

Injury report:
Clarkson, who has played in only 25 games this season due to leg injuries, hopes to return to the Devils lineup. Defenseman Paul Martin is aiming to return for the March 10 game against the Rangers.

Sharks forward Manny Malhotra and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic are nursing lower-body injuries. Malhotra is likely to play Tuesday, but Vlasic is out indefinitely.

Stat pack:
Langenbrunner (group play vs. Canada) and Parise (quarterfinal vs. Switzerland, semifinal vs. Norway) combined to record three straight game-winning goals for the U.S. on its run to the gold-medal game. … Heatley had four goals, three assists and a plus-1 rating in seven games for Canada, while Boyle had a goal, five assists and a plus-5 rating.

Puck drop: This is the start of a five-game homestand for San Jose and the continuation of a four-game road trip for New Jersey that began in Carolina just before the break. This game will be televised nationally in the United States by Versus.

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