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Sharks-Blue Jackets Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: San Jose Sharks (36-24-10) at Columbus Blue Jackets (28-40-3).

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.

A four-team race for the playoffs has fueled the San Jose Sharks' recent rise in the Western Conference.

They hope it continues when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena in the finale of a five-game road trip.

The Sharks are 8-1-2 in their last 11 games and are trying to catch Vancouver and Edmonton for the eighth and final playoff spot. San Jose begins play in ninth place with 82 points - two points behind the Canucks and Oilers, who are tied for seventh. The Sharks also have a one-point lead over 10th-place Los Angeles.

San Jose will face the Canucks and Kings twice more, including a home-and-home series with Vancouver on April 12-13 and a season-finale meeting with the Kings at home, where the Sharks are 8-0-1 since a 4-3 loss to Calgary on Feb. 6.

San Jose has completed its season series with Edmonton.

The Sharks improved to 3-1-0 on their road swing as Tom Preissing scored 1:24 into overtime and Joe Thornton had three assists for the second straight game in the Sharks' 5-4 win over Chicago on Sunday.

Just 8-12-4 at the time, the Sharks have gone 28-12-6 since acquiring Thornton from Boston on Nov. 30 for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart.

"The guys are just shooting the puck real well right now," said Thornton, who has 16 goals and 57 assists in 46 games with his new team. "They're making me look better than I am."

One of those players is Jonathan Cheechoo, who has set the Sharks' single-season record with 45 goals. Since Thornton's arrival, Cheechoo has scored 38 goals and added 22 assists in 46 games, while second-leading scorer Patrick Marleau has totaled 22 goals and 33 assists.

Thornton has three goals and 10 assists in six games against the Blue Jackets in his career, including a four-point night in the Sharks' 6-3 win over Columbus on Jan. 5.

The Blue Jackets have won consecutive games since a five-game losing streak and need one win to tie the franchise record for victories in a season with 29, set in 2002-03.

David Vyborny, Rostislav Klesla and Rick Nash each had a goal and an assist, and Jaroslav Balastik had the lone goal in the shootout in the Blue Jackets' 5-4 win over Detroit on Saturday.

Columbus trailed 3-0 entering the third period before it scored four goals against Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood in just over seven minutes.

"It was kind of getting to desperation time for us," said Manny Malhotra, who gave the Blue Jackets a 4-3 lead at 14:45 with his sixth goal. "We weren't very happy the way we started the game."

San Jose is 14-4-1 all time against the Blue Jackets with all four losses coming in Columbus.

STANDINGS: Sharks - 82 points, 3rd place, 17 PB, Pacific Division. Blue Jackets - 59 points, 3rd place, 46 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Cheechoo, 45 goals; Joe Thornton, 81 assists and 106 points; Mark Smith, 89 PIM. Blue Jackets - Nikolai Zherdev, 26 goals and 52 points; Vyborny, 34 assists; Jody Shelley, 140 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 17.8 percent (74 for 417), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.4 percent (280 for 344), 20th. Blue Jackets - Power play: 14.0 percent (56 for 400), 29th. Penalty killing: 81.0 percent (371 for 458), 22nd.

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (15-17-7, 1 SO, 3.06 GAA); Vesa Toskala (16-6-3, 1, 2.69). Blue Jackets - Marc Denis (17-24-0, 1, 3.32); Pascal Leclaire (8-13-3, 3.42).

SEASON SERIES: Sharks, 2-1-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 5; Sharks, 6-3. At San Jose, Calif., Cheechoo had a hat trick and Joe Thornton notched a goal and three assists to back Toskala's 28 saves. Nash scored twice for the Blue Jackets.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 14-17-4 on the road; Blue Jackets - 18-17-0 at home.

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