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Sharks-Blackhawks Preview

NHL.com @NHL

GAME: San Jose Sharks (35-24-10) at Chicago Blackhawks (21-38-10).

TIME: Sunday, 7 p.m. EST.

If their play Saturday was any indication, the Sharks are determined to fight for a playoff spot.

San Jose will continue its push when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks, a team already eliminated from postseason contention.

The Sharks are tenth in the Western Conference with 80 points, two behind Vancouver and Edmonton, who are tied for seventh and one point behind ninth-place Los Angeles.

San Jose was tied 1-1 in the second period with Minnesota on Saturday, before scoring four unanswered goals to win 5-1.

The Sharks are 7-1-1 in their last nine games, averaging 4.86 goals in those seven wins.

"This was a huge win for us," Sharks defenseman Tom Preissing said. "Earlier in the year we hadn't played these guys very well. We are treating every game like it's a playoff game right now and each point is important."

Jonathan Cheechoo scored twice Saturday, including his team-record 45th of the season, and added an assist.

Patrick Marleau tallied a goal and an assist and will try to keep that momentum going against the Blackhawks, who he has three goals and one assist against in three games this season.

Joe Thornton had three assists to become the Sharks single-season assists leader. Thornton, who was acquired in a four-player deal from Boston on Nov. 30, needed just 45 games to record 54 assists with his new team.

Thornton broke the record held by Kelly Kisio, who had 52 assists in 1992-93. Thornton, the top overall pick by the Bruins in the 1997 entry draft, also has a career-high 103 points.

The Sharks also played strong defensively on Saturday, killing off all six of Minnesota's power-play opportunities. Goaltender Vesa Toskala stopped 24 shots to improve to 15-1-3 in his last 18 starts and has allowed just one goal in his last two games.

"Our goalie kept us in the game early," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said of Toskala. "We started out a little slow in the first period, but once we got our legs, we were OK. It's a wake-up call when your goalie has to constantly bail you out."

Nikolai Khabibulin did his best to help Chicago earn a victory Friday, making 22 saves during regulation and stopping six of the first seven skaters in the shootout.

He couldn't stop Brenden Morrow in the eighth round, however, as the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Dallas Stars in the NHL's new tiebreaker.

"It seems every time we've played a big team we've wasted a challenge," said Blackhawks right wing Martin Lapointe, whose team has lost four straight and seven of its last eight. "Tonight we played a good team and raised our level of play. Our goal tonight was to keep it simple. Our guys didn't quit."

Kyle Calder tallied a goal and an assist for Chicago while Mark Bell scored the tying goal with one-second left in regulation to push the game into an extra session.

STANDINGS: Sharks - 80 points, 4th place, 17 PB, Pacific Division. Blackhawks - 52 points, 4th place (tied), 51 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Cheechoo, 45 goals; Joe Thornton, 78 assists and 103 points; Mark Smith, 89 PIM. Blackhawks - Bell, 22 goals; Calder, 31 assists and 49 points; Matthew Barnaby, 159 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 17.6 percent (73 for 414), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (278 for 340), 17th. Blackhawks - Power play: 12.1 percent (43 for 355), 30th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (404 for 482), 9th.

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (15-17-7, 1 SO, 3.06 GAA); Toskala (14-6-3, 1, 2.72). Blackhawks - Khabibulin (13-22-4, 3.33); Craig Anderson (5-11-3, 1, 3.41).

SEASON SERIES: Sharks, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 8; Sharks, 2-1. At San Jose, Calif., Marleau and Joe Thornton each scored and Toskala made 14 of his 29 saves in the final period. Calder scored for the Blackhawks.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 13-17-4 on the road; Blackhawks - 12-18-4 at home.

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