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Sharks, Ducks gear up for Pacific showdown

by Brian Hunter

SHARKS (7-0-1) at DUCKS (5-1-1)


Season series: Second of five meetings between these Pacific Division rivals. Michal Handzus notched the decisive shootout goal in a 3-2 San Jose victory on Jan. 29, a game the Sharks tied up with 2:45 remaining on a Logan Couture goal.

Big story: San Jose became the last of the 30 NHL teams to lose a game on Saturday, but remains one of two still without a regulation defeat (Chicago, 7-0-2). Anaheim, meanwhile, is off to a fast start of its own -- just four points off the division lead and ahead of both the defending Pacific champ (Phoenix) and the defending Stanley Cup champ (Los Angeles).

Team Scope:

Sharks: One-sixth of this abbreviated season has passed for San Jose, which has re-established itself as one of the teams to beat in the West. The Sharks might well have made it eight in a row out of the gate if not for Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. After going nearly 54 minutes Saturday night without solving Rinne, the Sharks finally broke through for Martin Havlat's game-tying goal with 6:21 left, but Rinne didn't let anything past him in the shootout and they suffered a 2-1 defeat.

"Once they scored that first goal -- we were coming, we were coming," center Joe Thornton said of San Jose's response to Sergei Kostitsyn's goal 59 seconds into the third period. "Marty's goal was nice and we had some good chances after that."

Ducks: There's no shortage of offensive weapons on Anaheim, from the ageless Teemu Selanne to up-and-comers like Kyle Palmieri, and the Ducks are getting contributions up and down the lineup in averaging nearly four goals per game. And don't forget former Sharks draft pick Nick Bonino. He recorded his first career hat trick Saturday to power the Ducks' 7-4 win over the Kings. Palmieri, Ryan Getzlaf and newcomer Sheldon Souray all beat Jonathan Bernier, and Selanne finished the scoring with an empty-net goal.

"I hope it does a lot [for his confidence]," coach Bruce Boudreau said of Bonino, who had just six career goals in his previous 91 games over parts of four seasons in Anaheim. "He was smiling pretty good and he was happy. I was really happy for him. Your first NHL hat trick doesn't happen very often."

Who's hot: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi ranked fourth in goals-against average (1.80) and fifth in save percentage (.936) heading into Sunday's action. … Bobby Ryan has two goals and five assists during a four-game points streak for the Ducks. Palmieri has three goals in the last two games. Emerson Etem assisted on two of Bonino's goals Saturday for his first NHL points.

Injury report: San Jose remains without defenseman Brent Burns, on injured reserve following offseason hernia surgery. … Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler left Saturday's game in the second period with an upper-body injury and Boudreau was unsure as to the severity after the game.

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