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Sharks-Blues Preview

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GAME: San Jose Sharks (33-23-10) at St. Louis Blues (20-35-11).

TIME: Tuesday, 8 p.m. EST.

The San Jose Sharks used a long homestand to get back into the playoff race. Now, they'll try to use a long road trip to push into one of the top eight spots.

The Sharks visit the St. Louis Blues to start a five-game road swing.

San Jose went 5-0-1 during its homestand to move into the thick of the playoff hunt. The Sharks will face teams with worse records in four of the five matchups on the road trip, the lone exception being Western Conference-leading Detroit.

"We're right down to the wire now," center Mark Smith said. "It may come down to one shift or one mistake and you are in or out of the playoffs. It is crunch time right now."

The Sharks have been doing their best to stay in contention, scoring 26 goals during the six-game homestand. Starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov returned after missing five games with an abdominal strain Sunday to lead San Jose to a 6-5 victory over Colorado.

"I felt OK," he said. "It took about five or 10 minutes for me to get into the game."

The Sharks will need Nabokov during a stretch where they play 10 of their next 13 games on the road, all against Western Conference teams.

"It's not really a big deal where you play," said Smith. "You cant just win at home. Youve got to win on the road as well. You've got to come with the attitude that you are getting two points. This trip is going to be hard, but maybe it will get us some confidence on the road before the playoffs."

Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored his 42nd goal in the victory over the Avalanche, needs three goals to break Owen Nolan's single-season team record of 44, set in 1999-2000.

The Blues lost 4-2 to Nashville on Monday, their third straight loss, all coming on the road.

St. Louis fell behind 4-0 before Scott Young and Jay McClement scored for the Blues.

"We were in it," St. Louis coach Mike Kitchen said. "Nashville's power play is dangerous. They move the puck around so well, and they have so many different looks. They're looking to move the puck through the seams all the time from side-to-side. It's keeps you on your toes."

St. Louis has allowed 16 power-play chances in its last two games, but the Blues have killed off 35 of 37 penalties over their last seven games. They also gave up 41 shots Monday, matching a season high for shots allowed established Jan. 25 at Dallas.

This contest is the start of a four-game homestand for the Blues, who have recorded a point in their last seven at the Savvis Center (5-0-2).

STANDINGS: Sharks - 76 points, 4th place, 17 PB, Pacific Division. Blues - 51 points, 4th place (tied), 48 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Cheechoo, 42 goals; Joe Thornton, 74 assists and 99 points; Smith, 85 PIM. Blues - Scott Young, 16 goals and 44 points; Petr Cajanek, 29 assists; Barret Jackman, 156 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 17.8 percent (71 for 399), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.2 percent (263 for 324), 21st. Blues - Power play: 15.7 percent (66 for 421), 24th. Penalty killing: 82.3 percent (320 for 389), 16th.

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (15-16-7, 1 SO, 3.03 GAA); Vesa Toskala (13-6-3, 2.84). Blues - Curtis Sanford (13-13-5, 3, 2.66); Patrick Lalime (4-14-6, 3.67).

SEASON SERIES: Sharks, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Thursday; Sharks, 5-2. At San Jose, Calif., Tom Preissing and rookie Steve Bernier each scored twice as the Sharks won their fourth straight.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 11-16-4 on the road; Blues - 11-15-5 at home.

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