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Rebounding Sharks visit desperate Stars

by Matthew Mankiewich

SHARKS (47-19-10) at STARS (33-29-14)

Last 10 -- San Jose 4-5-1, Dallas 4-4-2

Season series -- A Sharks win would even up the six-game series, with the Stars having won three of the first five meetings. Dallas' first two wins came in shootouts, but the most recent victory was an 8-2 bushwhacking on Mar. 16. That was followed, though, by a more Sharks-like 3-0 win on Mar. 25, clinching a playoff berth for San Jose.

Big story -- Now that their 0-5-1 slump has been balanced by a four-game winning streak, the Sharks can concentrate on nailing down the top seed in the Western Conference. Getting healthy in the final six games wouldn't hurt either. The Stars are technically still in it, nine points behind the eighth-place Avalanche with 12 still on the table, but they're running out of time.

Team scope:

Sharks -- Since his acquisition from the Boston Bruins at the end of November 2005, the Sharks had never taken the ice without Joe Thornton, a span of 379 consecutive games. Then he got hurt slamming into the boards Saturday night during the Sharks' 4-2 win over the Canucks -- and sat out Sunday's 4-3 win over the Avalanche, ending his personal streak at 398, dating back to his Boston days.

Monday was an off-day for the Sharks, but Thornton came into the team's practice facility for treatment. He also had an MRI. While there's been no official word on his return, he will be accompanying the team on its four-game road trip.

"It's a bad time, but I'm hoping to play on the trip," Thornton said to the San Jose Mercury News. "I want to have a couple of games under my belt before the postseason starts. I'm just hoping it heals quickly."

So far, so good for the Sharks, though, as they survived at least one game without No. 19. Devin Setoguchi snapped a six-game scoring drought with a pair of goals in the win over Colorado.

Stars -- Mike Ribeiro was a healthy scratch Monday night, and the Stars felt his absence, losing to the Anaheim Ducks 3-1. Coach Marc Crawford disciplined the veteran forward for showing up 10 minutes late for a team meeting Sunday.

"We knew we were going to be shorthanded, but we felt it was the important and right thing to do long-term," Crawford said. "You have to have people that trust and do the things that they need to do -- in any business. Sometimes you don't get the benefit right away. Usually your guys dig in, and they did."

Who's hot -- Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen has had a good stretch lately, going 4-2-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in his last six games. He stopped 43 of 46 shots against the Ducks. At the other end of the ice, Evgeni Nabokov had his 8-0-0 streak and 1.43 GAA in the AmericanAirlinesCenter stopped in Dallas' 8-2 rout two weeks ago, but has won his last three starts, allowing only three goals

Injury report -- Thornton (lower body) is still questionable for Wednesday; a Friday return in Minnesota seems more likely at this point. Future Hall of Famer Mike Modano (appendectomy) has been skating on his own but has been advised by doctors not to take any contact before Tuesday, so he could be ready for Friday's home game against Edmonton.

Stat pack -- The Ducks outshot the Stars 46-31, making it the seventh time in the last 18 games Dallas has allowed 40 or more shots. Six of those games were on the road. Ribeiro's absence Monday meant more ice time for center Brad Richards (24:34). Dany Heatley's next goal will give him 40 for the season, joining Patrick Marleau (42) in the 40-goal club and making the Sharks the only team in the NHL with two such players. Richards has 86 points, only five short of his career high set with TampaBay in 2005-06.

Puck drop -- "I don't think you're going to see a lot of pretty goals from this point on, and I'm not just talking about our hockey club. I think that the teams that continue on and play into June, there are going to be a lot of those ugly goals - throw it to the net, off feet, off sticks, get a lucky break here and there." -- Sharks coach Todd McLellan on the goals scored by his team in Sunday's game and what he expects to see from now on.

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