SHARKS (19-3-5) at PENGUINS (19-9-1)
TV: CSN-CA, ROOT
Last 10: San Jose 9-1-0; Pittsburgh 7-2-1
Season series: This is the first of two games between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins during the regular season. They haven't met in over two years, since a 4-3 shootout win by the Sharks on Nov. 3, 2011. Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins had two goals and an assist in a losing effort.
Big story: Could this be a Stanley Cup Final preview? The Penguins have won four in a row to pass the rival Boston Bruins for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Pacific Division-leading Sharks started a four-game road trip against the Toronto Maple Leafs by extending their own win streak to six. The winner Thursday will join the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks as the second NHL team to 20 wins.
The Penguins will be missing a key piece, as Malkin has a lower-body injury and won't be in the lineup.
Sharks: Brad Stuart's third goal of the season was also his third game-winner as San Jose doubled up Toronto 4-2 on Tuesday. That ties Tommy Wingels for the team lead. In his career, 21 of Stuart's 77 goals are game-winners, or 27 percent.
Now the Sharks get a crack at the Penguins, and it's a game Tyler Kennedy is looking forward to in particular. Acquired at the 2013 NHL Draft for a second-round pick, Kennedy, who played six seasons and won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh while helping Sidney Crosby rack up the points, will now be tasked with helping his team keep No. 87 off the board.
"Don't give him much room. That's the biggest thing," Kennedy said in the San Jose Mercury News. "And you've got to make sure he plays in their end more than he does in our end. No matter what guy you play in hockey, if he's in his own end, he's not a threat."
Penguins: It was an optional skate for Pittsburgh on Wednesday after they returned home from a 3-2 overtime win against the New York Islanders on Tuesday. The Penguins yielded a pair of first-period goals to Kyle Okposo and didn't get on the board until James Neal's power-play goal with 15.6 seconds left in the second period, but Crosby had some late heroics up his sleeve.
In the third, he took a Malkin feed and one-timed a power-play goal at the eight-minute mark, forcing OT. In the extra period, he stole the puck from Thomas Vanek, split a pair of Isles defenders and put home the winner with 1:16 remaining.
"We battled back and forth between playing the right way and getting away from it, but the bottom line is, we found a way to win," Neal said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And it's good for our team to be able to do that."
Who's hot: Joe Thornton has three goals and five assists during a six-game point streak for the Sharks. Logan Couture has two goals and three assists during a three-game point streak. … Crosby has six goals and seven assists in the past nine games for the Penguins and leads the League with 38 points, one more than Malkin. Neal has eight goals and six assists in his past eight games.
Injury report: San Jose forwards Raffi Torres (knee) and Adam Burish (lower body) are on injured reserve. … Malkin (lower body) will miss the game Thursday for Pittsburgh, while goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Rob Scuderi (ankle) and Paul Martin (leg) and forwards Chuck Kobasew (lower body), Beau Bennett (wrist) and Tanner Glass (hand) are on injured reserve.