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Sharks eye top seed, finish off with Coyotes

by Adam Kimelman
COYOTES (50-25-6) at SHARKS (50-20-11)

Last 10: Phoenix 6-3-1; San Jose 7-2-1

Season series:
This is the sixth and final meeting between the top two teams in the Pacific Division. The Coyotes took the first two games, but San Jose has won the last three, most recently Jan. 12 when Patrick Marleau had 2 goals and an assist in a 3-1 Sharks win at Arena.

Big Story:
The Sharks need a win to stay on top in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes are locked into the No. 4 spot and will be aiming to just finish the regular season healthy.

Team Scope:

Coyotes --
Usually Fan Appreciation Night is a chance for players to thank the fans for a season of support. In Phoenix, however, it was the fans thanking the players for a remarkable season -- and celebrating the fact that there's more to come.

"It gives me chills just to think about it," captain Shane Doan told the Arizona Republic. "I hated Fan Appreciation Night for the last six, seven years. It was like, 'Hey guys, thanks so much for supporting us. We'll see you next year.' This time, it's, 'We'll see you next week. Wear white.' And I like it."

Doan gave the fans something else to like -- the franchise icon snapped a career-long 23-game goal drought in a 5-2 victory against the Nashville that also earned the Coyotes home-ice advantage in the first round.

Sharks --
There's always a team the media anoints as "the team no one wants to play in the playoffs," and in the Western Conference, it's the Detroit Red Wings. But when San Jose coach Todd McLellan was asked about his team facing Detroit in the first round, he said now isn't the time to worry about first-round opponents.

"I understand why people are out there saying you want to avoid the Detroit Red Wings," McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News, "but that's out there, it's not in there, in our locker room. We don’t talk like that.

"Let's face facts -- regardless of who we play in the first round, we've got our hands full. When you look at the wins alone, I think you've got a team at 50 and after that it's 47, 48, 46, 47 -- I really don't believe there's much distinction between one and eight this year, maybe the tightest it's ever been. And Detroit happens to be one of those in that mix. The real Detroit team is the one that's played since the Olympic break, the healthy one, the polished one, the confident one. Perhaps that's why people outside our locker room are talking like that.

"The minute you start trying to pick an opponent or worrying about who you might or might not play, you expose yourself. Sunday night, Monday morning we'll know who we're playing."

Who's Hot --
With 4 points in his last three games, Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle is finishing his best NHL season with a flourish. His 12 goals are eighth among all NHL defensemen, and his plus-17 rating is the best on the Coyotes -- not bad for a player who entered the season a career minus-16.

Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle also is playing some good hockey. Despite being held scoreless in his last two games, he has 4 goals and 11 points in his last 13 games.

Injury Report --
Veteran Coyotes center Robert Lang is questionable for the regular-season finale due to a lower-body injury. … San Jose is icing a completely healthy team.

Stat Pack --
Not counting shootout goals, the Sharks have outscored the Coyotes by one goal, 8-7, in the teams' five meetings this season.

Puck Drop --
An amusing moment during the Sharks' game against the Canucks Thursday led to this exchange between San Jose forward Ryane Clowe, who was in an over-crowded penalty box, and a referee.

Referee: (pointing at Clowe) "Sit down in there!"
Clowe: "There's no space!"
Referee: "Sit on the guy's lap!"

At one point in a penalty-marred third period, the Sharks had six players in the penalty box, which forced Devin Setoguchi and Scott Nichol to stand. A seventh player, Niclas Wallin, was in the locker room serving a 10-minute misconduct.

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