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San Jose Sharks vs. Nashville Predators @NHLdotcom
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GAME: San Jose Sharks (28-15-11-5) at Nashville Predators (27-22-7-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 8 p.m. EST.

They may not be considered one of the NHL's elite teams, but the San Jose Sharks have proven they can beat anyone.

Coming off one their most impressive wins of the season, the Sharks look to increase their lead in the Pacific Division when they continue a six-game road trip against the Nashville Predators.

San Jose began this trip with consecutive losses to Buffalo and Detroit before avoiding a season-high third straight defeat with a 2-1 victory at Columbus on Saturday.

The Sharks made it four wins in six games with a 5-2 victory at Philadelphia on Monday, as Scott Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo each had a goal and two assists.

"We viewed this as a test of our legitimacy," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "Right now, this is the best team in the East and one of the best in hockey. We kind of looked at it like if we were ever to dream that we were going to win the Stanley Cup, we might have to win a game like this in May or June."

With the win, San Jose moved seven points ahead of Los Angeles and eight in front of Dallas in the Pacific.

Since Jan. 5, the Sharks have road wins over Vancouver, Colorado and Philadelphia - three of the league's top teams - while also defeating Central Division-leading Detroit at home.

The play of goalie Evgeni Nabokov is one of the biggest reasons behind San Jose's surprising success. Nabokov, among the league leaders with a 1.94 goals-against average, has surrendered two goals or fewer in five straight starts and 10 of his last 11.

While San Jose appears to be a lock for the playoffs, the Predators can't afford to struggle much longer if they plan to play in the postseason for the first time in team history.

Nashville allowed three first-period goals in a 4-2 loss at Columbus on Monday.

The Predators, 1-4-1 in their last six, fell into ninth place in the West, one point behind Dallas.

"It was not a prototypical game, that's for sure," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Misfortune sort of hit us, and we lost our momentum or we gave them momentum. We lost the game in the first period."

In an effort to help one of the league's weaker offenses, the Predators acquired forward Steve Sullivan from Chicago on Monday for two second-round draft picks.

Sullivan, now Nashville's leading scorer with 43 points, had eight goals and six assists in his last 10 games with the Blackhawks.

STANDINGS (through Feb. 16): Sharks - 72 points, 1st place, Pacific Division. Predators - 63 points, 3rd place, 13 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Patrick Marleau, 24 goals and 42 points; Vincent Damphousse, 21 assists; Scott Parker, 84 PIM. Predators - Scott Walker, 17 goals; Sullivan, 28 assists and 43 points; Jordin Tootoo, 116 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 16): Sharks - Power play: 15.0 percent (37 for 246), 21st in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.0 percent (208 for 239), 2nd. Predators - Power play: 15.1 percent (46 for 304), 20th. Penalty killing: 81.7 percent (223 for 273), 25th.

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (18-14-7, 7 SO, 1.94 GAA); Vesa Toskala (10-6-4, 2.01). Predators - Tomas Vokoun (24-21-6, 2, 2.63); Chris Mason (3-3-1, 1, 2.11).

SEASON SERIES: Sharks, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 31; Predators, 3-2, OT. At Nashville, Tenn., Marek Zidlicky scored with 16 seconds left in overtime as Nashville extended its home unbeaten streak to 11.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 14-10-4-3 on the road; Predators - 18-7-5-1 at home.

Associated Press
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