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Predators-Sharks Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals; Sharks lead 2-1.

TIME: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EDT.

The San Jose Sharks relied heavily on the NHL's top goal scorer, Jonathan Cheechoo, and the league's points leader, Joe Thornton, all season long. Now they're winning with Patrick Marleau leading the way.

Marleau looks to continue his strong play in the Sharks' first-round series against the Nashville Predators when the teams meet in Game 4.

Marleau has scored three goals, tops on the team, in sparking San Jose to two straight victories and a 2-1 series lead. The big center had a team-best eight goals in the 2004 postseason as San Jose reached the conference finals.

On Tuesday night, Marleau scored twice and Vesa Toskala stopped 16 shots in the Sharks' 4-1 victory.

"He's the captain, he's the veteran, and when you see him play like he's playing right now, you just have to follow him," said Sharks rookie Steve Bernier, who plays on a line with Marleau and scored his first career playoff goal in the second period Tuesday to put his team up for good.

San Jose put together another strong all-around effort in winning its second in a row after dropping the Friday's opener. The Sharks outshot the Predators 40-17 on Tuesday and neutralized Nashville's top offensive threats, Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan. Neither Kariya, who recorded four assists in the Preds' 4-3 win in Game 1, nor Sullivan had a point for the second straight game.

"We want to play them in their end and always have the puck," Marleau said.

While Marleau tops the Sharks in goals in this series, Cheechoo continued his strong play with a third-period goal Tuesday to give him two goals and two assists in the three games. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff added three assists for San Jose.

Nashville has managed to hold Thornton to one assist in the series, but the Predators' biggest concern is offense. The Preds scored three times in the first period of Game 1, but have managed only two goals in the last 160 minutes.

Nashville was outshot 37-25 in Sunday's 3-0 loss in Game 2, and was even more inept offensively Tuesday night. The Predators' only goal was a short-handed score by Kimmo Timonen in the first period.

Preds goaltender Chris Mason, starting because No. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun is out for the season with a rare blood condition, allowed soft goals to Cheechoo and Marleau on Tuesday in his third career playoff start.

"Chris would want the first and third (goals) back, but he gave us a chance to be in there," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We had some great chances. (Mike) Sillinger had two chances when it was 2-1, and they go down and end up scoring. That sort of was the turning point, that third goal."

On the other end, the Predators have struggled to break through against Toskala, who's also playing in the playoffs for the first time but picked up the shutout Sunday and has allowed one goal on 42 shots in the last two games.

The series returns to the Gaylord Entertainment Center for Game 5 on Sunday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Predators - 106 points; 4th seed. Sharks - 99 points; 5th seed.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Predators - Five with 1 goal; Kariya, 4 assists and 4 points; Brendan Witt, 8 PIM. Sharks - Marleau, 3 goals; Ehrhoff and Tom Preissing, 4 assists, four with 4 points; Ville Nieminen, 20 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Predators - Power play: 20.0 percent (4 for 20). Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (20 for 25). Sharks - Power play: 20.0 percent (5 for 25). Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (16 for 20).

GOALTENDERS: Predators - Mason (1-2, 3.37 GAA); Pekka Rinne (no appearances). Sharks - Toskala (2-1, 1 SO, 1.69); Evgeni Nabokov (no appearances).

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