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Predators end final road trip with game vs. Sharks

by Brian Hunter

PREDATORS (33-24-9) at SHARKS (38-22-6)


Last 10:
Nashville 3-5-2; San Jose 8-2-0

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the season between these teams -- all three previous games have been decided by a single goal, with Nashville taking the first two matchups and San Jose the most recent. Despite winning only one of three starts, Antti Niemi has a 2.00 goals-against average and .935 save percentage for the Sharks. Pekka Rinne is 1-0-1 in two starts for the Predators with a 1.45 GAA and .968 save percentage.

Big story: This marks the end of a four-game road trip for Nashville, which currently sits outside the top eight in the Western Conference but will play its next five games, nine of 10 and 12 of the final 15 in the regular season on home ice. The Predators would love to take some positive momentum back to Bridgestone Arena with them.

Team Scope:

Predators: So far Nashville has gained three of a possible six points on this trip, losing in a shootout in Edmonton, picking up a huge shutout win in Vancouver against the team with the most points in the NHL and most recently suffering a narrow, 3-2 loss in Calgary on Sunday. The Predators took a pair of first-period leads on goals by Martin Erat and Ryan Suter, but Jarome Iginla converted on a penalty shot early in the second and Curtis Glencross netted the decisive goal midway through the third.

"This was for sure our biggest game of the year, so right now we're disappointed," Rinne said. "But at least we have a chance to bounce back right away in San Jose."

Sharks: Midway through a six-game homestand San Jose continues to lead the Pacific Division, although the Sharks had their eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday by the Stars, who held down first place for a significant portion of the season. Now they're fighting for their playoff lives and rallied for a pair of third-period goals to deal the Sharks a 3-2 defeat. Kyle Wellwood and Patrick Marleau were the San Jose goal scorers.

"I don't think it was our best effort compared to the way we've been winning lately," Marleau said. "They did get a couple of good bounces that went their way but we had our opportunities to go ahead even more."

Who's hot:
David Legwand has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last five games for the Predators. ... Marleau has 4 goals and 2 assists in his last five games for the Sharks.

Injury report: Nashville defenseman Francis Bouillon (upper body) and forwards Steve Sullivan (sports hernia), Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Cal O'Reilly (broken fibula) and Marcel Goc (shoulder) are on injured reserve. ... San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Kent Huskins (upper body) and forward Scott Nichol (upper body) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
This matchup pits the League's third-best power play in San Jose (22.1 percent) against the fifth-best penalty kill in Nashville (85.3 percent) -- so far this season the Sharks are just 1-for-10 against the Predators with the man advantage.

Puck drop: With injuries sidelining backup Antero Niittymaki on more than one occasion, Niemi has ended up starting 21 straight games for San Jose. Niittymaki was just activated off injured reserve, so that streak could be coming to an end soon.

"We're all aware of how much Nemo has had to play lately," coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "Get Niitty a few more practices, a few more game situations where he's involved on the bench and then he'll be ready to go play. I think we're going to need both goaltenders. We've said that from the beginning of the year on. When it's all said and done, he's going to be an important part."

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