Just over a month ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared unlikely candidates to win the Pacific Division, but they will have a chance to emerge with their first division crown since 2003-04 when they conclude their season series with the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
|Joe Thornton (right) scored two goals Thursday night, including the game-winner in overtime. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Jose (46-21-10) trailed Anaheim and Dallas in the Pacific for the better part of 2007-08, and sat nine points out of the lead following a season-high five-game skid from Feb. 12-20. The team, though, went on to win 15 of its next 17 games (15-0-2) to build a six-point advantage on the Ducks (44-26-8) and a 12-point edge over the Stars.
The Sharks, who have not suffered a regulation loss since falling to New Jersey on Feb. 20, are coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over visiting Dallas on Thursday.
Joe Thornton scored his second goal of the game with 2:02 left in the extra period, and Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves for his league-leading 44th win as San Jose assured itself home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"We've been playing real good hockey to get us in this position," said Thornton, who tops the league with 65 assists and has a team-leading 91 points - tied for fourth in the NHL. "We just need to continue it. It's going to be good to have home ice for the first little bit."
San Jose boasts the league's second-best overall record, six points behind Detroit (108) in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
The Sharks have five games remaining, including three on the road, where they have won nine of 10 for a league-best 26-8-4 mark. San Jose is 8-4-4 at the Honda Center since the start of 2002-03.
The Sharks are 2-2-3 in this season's series, including a 2-1 home victory on Friday. Thornton scored in that contest, giving him two goals and two assists in seven games against Anaheim.
|Jean-Sebastien Giguere practiced Thursday and could be ready to go tonight. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)
Nabokov, who is 13-0-1 with a 1.92 goals-against average in his last 15 starts, is 2-2-2 with a 1.77 GAA in six starts this season versus the Ducks.
He has won just two of his last six games in Anaheim, where the Ducks have won a franchise-record 10 straight, the longest home winning streak in the league this season.
The Ducks, who haven't lost at home since falling to Dallas on Feb. 15, opened their three-game homestand with a 2-1 shootout victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Bobby Ryan scored the lone regulation goal, while Mathieu Schneider and Teemu Selanne had shootout tallies for the defending division and Stanley Cup champions, who reached the postseason for the sixth time in the franchise's 14-year history.
Rookie Jonas Hiller made 31 saves through overtime, then stopped five of six shootout attempts for Anaheim, which has won five of six overall to move into fourth in the West.
"Now we're in a position to improve for home-ice advantage," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, whose team will play three of its remaining four games at the Honda Center. "We just want to get our game to the level where we feel we can be competitive against the best teams."
Hiller, who has made three straight starts in place of the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere (back spasms), turned aside a season-high 41 shots in the defeat.
Giguere, who is 5-0-1 with a shutout and a 1.44 GAA in six games against the Sharks this season, practiced Thursday and could return Friday, according to the Ducks' official Web site.
Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks' leader with 54 assists and 77 points, may also be back after missing two games with an upper body injury.