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San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks @NHLdotcom
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GAME: San Jose Sharks (15-9-11-3) at Chicago Blackhawks (9-19-7-4).

TIME: Friday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

After closing 2003 with a win over the worst team in the league, the surging San Jose Sharks will look to begin the new year with a victory against the lowly Chicago Blackhawks.

San Jose opened a four-game trip Wednesday with another strong defensive effort in a 1-0 victory over Columbus.

Alyn McCauley scored with 4:59 left in regulation and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 26 shots for his fourth shutout of the season, helping San Jose run its unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1).

"We knew they're on a losing streak at home, so they were going to play a tight game," Nabokov said. "They kind of sucked us in and we didn't play at the level we wanted. But we played smart."

The six-game unbeaten streak is one shy of the Sharks' season-high seven-game run (5-0-2) from Nov. 15-30.

Nabokov has started each game during the current unbeaten streak, allowing eight goals while posting two shutouts.

Patrick Marleau has been the offensive catalyst for the Sharks of late, though his six-game point streak came to an end Wednesday. Marleau is one of five Sharks with at least 10 goals.

With 29 points, the Blackhawks are ahead of only Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus in the NHL, but have played better of late.

Although Chicago has only three wins in its last 25 games, it is 2-2-1-1 in its last six, including 3-0 victories over St. Louis and Detroit -- two of the league's top teams -- and a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver on Wednesday.

Blackhawks captain Alex Zhamnov returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing 35 games following back surgery. He forged a 1-1 tie at 7:07 of the second period with his first goal of the season.

"It was a little tough in the first five minutes," Zhamnov said. "It doesn't matter how hard you practice, a game situation is different. But after that, it was fine. I think the second game will be much easier for me."

Chicago enters the new year with just nine wins -- the fewest in team history since the 1956-57 team won eight games through December.

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