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Pacific: Sharks vying for Presidents' Trophy

by John Kreiser
First place in the Western Conference, if not the entire National Hockey League, is once again the San Jose Sharks' to lose.

The Sharks headed to the Midwest for games at Chicago and Nashville with a one-point lead over Detroit in the West after a 5-2 victory against Dallas on Saturday and a 3-1 win vs. Colorado on Sunday. The Sharks have 10 games remaining; Detroit missed a chance to regain first place with a 5-3 loss at Calgary on Monday and has just nine games left.

"We look in the standings and we're aware Detroit was one point ahead of us," goalie Evgeni Nabokov said.

The Sharks' 106 points are also four more than the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins. But first-year coach Todd McLellan, who was an assistant with the Cup-winning Red Wings last season, isn't dusting off space for the Presidents' Trophy just yet.

"It's one-eighth of the season (still to go)," he said. "There is a lot of hockey left. It's a good sign the players are putting wins together."

Finishing first would have a pair of benefits. The Sharks would have the home-ice advantage in a series with the Wings (and potentially in the Final against whoever comes out of the East) -- a big thing since all four San Jose-Detroit games were won by the home team.

"It's a comforting feeling to know you're going to have home ice all the way through the playoffs," captain Patrick Marleau told the Sharks' Web site when asked about the importance of finishing first. "It's something that we're focused on and want to obtain."

They would also avoid a potential second-round matchup with the Northwest Division winner -- likely the Calgary Flames, who pushed the Sharks to a seventh game in the opening round last spring.

"For sure we want to finish first, because that gives you the best playoff position," said forward Milan Michalek, who scored in both games over the weekend. "It's down to the end now, so we've got to try to get every point to be sure we have a chance."

Desperate times in Dallas -- Less than 12 months after getting within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final, the Dallas Stars started the week looking at an early summer vacation.

With only 10 games left, the Stars were 12th in the West after a disastrous three-game trip that saw them lose all three games -- and center Brad Richards, whose comeback from a broken right wrist lasted just two periods before he broke his left hand in the third period of last Saturday's 5-2 loss at San Jose.

"We could scroll down a long list of excuses that could be made [for missing the postseason], but this team is not all about that," goaltender Marty Turco said at Monday's practice. "As openly criticized as we are of the position we're in, we're not willing to really accept defeat through excuses. We're going to see how it all plays out over the next 10 games."

The good thing for the Stars is that they have three home games this week, hosting Vancouver, Los Angeles and Florida -- and they they've been much better at American Airlines Center than on the road.

"We have an opportunity to make our own success, so it's kind of a do-or-die week that we have here," center Mike Modano said. "These three games at home will be crucial for us and if we can have a great week, we're right back there."

The biggest task for the coaching staff is keeping the team in a positive frame of mind -- preventing the players from getting frustrated about the six points they lost on the trip or looking any further forward than the next game.

"That's something that you can let it eat you, or you can attack it," coach Dave Tippett said of the feelings of frustration. "I've always been a big believer in that you look at things like that head on and find solutions for them.

"It's frustrating not winning hockey games when points are so big right now, but you've got to find a way to beat that and get on top of it. It can eat away at you and you've got to find ways to get it out of your system and bring the positive in and use the positive energy to get the results you want."

Power surge -- It took a while, but the Anaheim Ducks appear to have figured out the mechanics of their power play, at least at the Honda Center.

After going 0-for-22 on the power play, Anaheim scored three times in the third period and overtime of a 4-3 win against Nashville. Four nights later, the Ducks matched a team record by scoring four times with the extra man in a 6-2 win against Phoenix.

"The power play has been effective at times for us and ineffective at times," said forward Ryan Getzlaf, who had two power-play goals in the third period against Phoenix. "This was one of those games that we needed it big time and we were able to deliver."

Added coach Randy Carlyle, "When your power play delivers as it did tonight and then your penalty killing, it definitely was the difference in the game. We have to try to build on more nights like this. It will continue to get tougher as we go into the final stretch here of 10 games in the season. They are more important points than they have ever been for our hockey club."

The win against the Coyotes put Anaheim into ninth place in the West as they headed out for games at eighth-place Nashville and Colorado before returning home Friday to face seventh-place Edmonton.

"The games are against the teams that we're going to be playing are going to be tough," Getzlaf said. "We've got to get better and play harder, and we're looking forward to the challenge."

At last -- The Los Angeles Kings had to wait a couple of weeks to get their deadline day acquisition on the ice. Forward Justin Williams, acquired from Carolina in a three-way deal that sent Patrick O'Sullivan to Edmonton, made his Kings debut March 20 at Pittsburgh after his broken hand healed enough to play.

Williams played in 4-1 losses to Pittsburgh and Chicago, taking two minor penalties without putting up any points.

"Justin Williams is feeling his way and getting his legs underneath him right now," Kings coach Terry Murray told the media after practice on Monday. "I have seen him when he is on top of his game and he can be a very effective offensive threat."

Both Murray and GM Dean Lombardi know Williams from his days in Philadelphia, where he began his career after being a first-round draft pick nine years ago. Williams had a pair of 30-goal seasons with Carolina and was a member of the Hurricanes' 2005-06 Cup-winning team -- two attributes that attracted the Kings.

His experience will also come in handy on a very young team.

"We are a young team in the fact that nothing really fazes us," Williams noted before the Pittsburgh game. "Regardless of how the game goes tonight, if we're down a goal or if we're down two goals or three, we have the attitude that says, 'nothing is going to faze us.'"

Murray has moved Williams onto a line with center Michal Handzus and winger Anze Kopitar in hopes of jump-starting the offense. Teddy Purcell, who had been skating with Kopitar, was bumped down to a line with Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown. Murray hopes the new pairings with perk up an offense that scored just one goal each in losses to Pittsburgh and Chicago and managed only 15 shots on goal against the Hawks.

Ice chips -- Happily for the Dallas Stars, none of their remaining 10 games is against San Jose. The Sharks exacted some revenge for last spring's second-round elimination from the playoffs by beating the Stars in five of their six meetings this season, including all three in Dallas. ... The official ground-breaking ceremony for the newest addition to the stable of Dr Pepper StarCenter facilities, at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, took place March 20. The two-sheet ice rink complex, the ninth built in the past decade, is scheduled to open next September. ... Phoenix is giving former Rangers first-rounder Al Montoya a taste of the NHL. The 24-year-old netminder was called up from San Antonio of the AHL on Monday. Coyotes' GM Don Maloney, who was with the Rangers when they chose Montoya with the sixth pick of the 2004 Entry Draft, acquired him in a deal last year. Montoya is 7-17-2 with a 3.22 goals-against average for the Rampage this season, but was 3-2-0 with a 1.50 GAA in his last five appearances. ... Phoenix captain Shane Doan was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week after going 3-4-7 as the Coyotes went 2-1-1 in four games last week. He had the game-winner in both victories. ... Los Angeles' flickering playoff hopes took another hit when forward Alexander Frolov sustained a lower-body injury in the final minutes of Sunday's loss at Chicago. He'll miss the rest of the six-game road trip and went back to L.A. ... The Kings will hold LA Kings Hockey Fest '09, a three-day interactive festival celebrating the team and the game of hockey, beginning Friday evening Aug. 28 through Aug. 30. ...San Jose is now 17-1-1 when Milan Michalek scores a goal, as he did in Saturday's 5-2 win against Dallas and Sunday's 3-1 victory against Colorado. ... The Sharks became the first team to reach the 30-win mark at home with the victories against the Stars and Avs. No other team has more than 26. ... Sunday's 6-2 win against Phoenix snapped Anaheim's streak of eight consecutive one-goal games, tying a team record set in 2003-04. The Ducks were 4-3-1 in their eight one-goal games. ... Ducks forward Teemu Selanne became only the sixth non-North American to reach the 1,200-point mark when he scored the overtime winner against Nashville on March 18. The goal was the 574th of his career, moving him past Hall of Famer Mike Bossy into 18th place on the all-time list. ... Anaheim forward Rob Niedermayer, who played in his 1,000th NHL regular-season game Thursday at Phoenix, was honored for his milestone during a pregame ceremony Sunday in which his older brother presented him with a watch on behalf of the entire team. Chris Pronger, Todd Marchant and Bret Hedican reached the 1,000-game mark earlier this season, making Anaheim the first team to have four players reach 1,000 career games in the same season since the 1998-99 Los Angeles Kings (Ray Ferraro, Russ Courtnall, Garry Galley and Doug Bodger). The Niedermayers are the fourth set of brothers in League history to play in 1,000 games each, joining Russ and Geoff Courtnall, Kevin and Derian Hatcher, and Brent and Ron Sutter.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.

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