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Sharks, Ducks ready for first-place showdown

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- When San Jose Sharks forward Brent Burns arrived home Friday night after his first career hat trick in a 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues, his driveway was lined with hats and there was a 35-foot congratulatory banner hanging near his house, the work of some young neighbors.

"It was pretty crazy," Burns said. "Twitter was crazy, text messages."

One of those text messages was from former Minnesota Wild teammate Marian Gaborik, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Gaborik congratulated Burns on his hat trick then reminded him, "'You got 13 more to catch me,'" Burns said. "I said, 'Oh my God.'"

Less than 20 hours after scoring his third goal against St. Louis, Burns was back on the ice during an optional skate Saturday morning, working on his shot as the Sharks prepared for their first game of the season against the Anaheim Ducks, their Pacific Division rival.

"Got to work on it all the time," Burns said.

The Sharks switched Burns from defenseman to forward on March 12 last season, and he has been a dangerous offensive weapon since making the switch. He has eight goals and six assists in 12 games this season. Since returning from an upper-body injury that caused him to miss 13 games, Burns has four goals and two assists in four games, all wins.

The Sharks are 11-0-1 with Burns in the lineup.

How do you defend Burns?

"Well, he's 6-4 (actually 6-foot-5) and he's got a tremendous release and he's got somebody (Joe Thornton) passing him the puck that might be the best in the game at it," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said as his team went on the ice for an optional skate. "You've got to give them no space, because if you give these guys space, they're going to burn you. They can skate, they're big, they're strong. I mean, you have to play a perfect game or San Jose's going to eat you up."

The Sharks and Ducks each have 39 points, and the winner Saturday will stand alone atop the powerful Pacific Division.

"We're almost into December and we haven't seen them yet," Ducks forward Corey Perry said. "It's kind of weird, but it's exciting. They're playing well. We're obviously playing well, so it's going to be a tough matchup. It's going to be a great test for us to see where we are against another top team in the League."

The Sharks have won four straight games and will try to complete a perfect five-game homestand. The Ducks have won three of their past four games.

While the Ducks have to contend with a red-hot Burns, the Sharks have to face a dominant Ducks line of center Ryan Getzlaf, left wing Dustin Penner and Perry. Corey leads the Ducks with 14 goals, Getzlaf has 13 and Penner nine, including two in the Ducks' 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Friday afternoon.

Penner, Perry and Getzlaf were linemates during the 2006-07 season when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup. After spending three-plus years with the Edmonton Oilers and two-plus with the Los Angeles Kings, Penner returned to Anaheim this season, signing as a free agent.

"It's nice to have him back," Perry said. "We've kind of picked up from where we started a few years ago. It's been a lot of fun. He's a great player. He makes a lot of room for the two of us. That's definitely helped."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, "They played together in the past, they won a Cup together. They kind of put the band back together, if you will, and [Penner's] adjusted very well. He looks strong and confident. When you combine him with those other two it makes a handful for a lot of teams. Forty-one percent of their goals come from those three players, but that's not a surprise to any team in the League. It's just how do you stop it? We'll do our best."

So will the Ducks against Burns.

"He's big, he's skilled," Perry said. "He can skate, and playing with those guys over there (Thornton and Tomas Hertl), he's got two great linemates. He's a guy that if he's going to go to the net there's not too many guys that are going to stop him."

Here are the projected lineups for Anaheim and San Jose:


Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels

Tyler Kennedy - Joe Pavelski - Martin Havlat

James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle

Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Injured: Raffi Torres (knee surgery), Adam Burish (back surgery)

Scratched: Matt Pelech, Jason Demers, John McCarthy


Dustin Penner - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry

Matt Beleskey - Mathieu Perrault - Kyle Palmieri

Andrew Cogliano - Saku Koivu - Daniel Winnik

Patrick Maroon - Nick Bonino - Tim Jackman

Cam Fowler - Ben Lovejoy

Mark Fistric - Sami Vatanen

Alex Grant - Hampus Lindholm

Jonas Hiller

Frederik Andersen

Injured: Bryan Allen (lower body), Sheldon Souray (torn tendon, right wrist), Jakob Silfverberg (broken right hand), Francois Beauchemin (torn tendon, right hand), Viktor Fasth (muscle inflammation)

Scratched: Teemu Selanne, Nolan Yonkman

Notes: Selanne, who turned 43 on July 3, did not make the trip. He has not been playing in the second game of back-to-backs this season in an effort to keep him rested. Maroon is expected to be in the lineup. There's a good chance Grant will make his Ducks debut, with Yonkman coming out of the lineup.

Niemi, who started against St. Louis on Friday afternoon, will be in net. Hiller is expected to start after backing up Andersen against Calgary.

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