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Sharks, Flames set for huge showdown

by Frank Mentesana
SHARKS (34-25-9) at FLAMES (32-25-12)


Last 10: San Jose 3-5-2; Calgary 4-3-3.

Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting between these Western Conference foes. Each team has posted a one-goal victory on the road after San Jose notched a 2-1 shootout win on home ice in the first encounter.

Big Story: When glancing at Tuesday's schedule, you won't see a more critical game for both of the teams involved than this one at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The Sharks and Flames both currently sit outside the top eight in the West, but just barely. San Jose is in ninth with 77 points in 68 games, trailing eighth-place Colorado -- which has already played 71 games -- by merely one point. The Sharks are also still contenders to win the Pacific Division, as they are four points behind Dallas with one game in hand over the Stars. Calgary is right behind the Sharks in 10th place with 76 points in 69 games.

Their proximity to each other in the standings is not indicative of how each team is playing, however. The Sharks had lost five in a row until a one-goal victory at Edmonton Monday night, while the Flames are winners of three straight and are 4-1-1 this month after ending February on a four-game slide.

Team Scope:

Sharks: The Sharks entered Monday's matchup with the Oilers struggling on the power play -- and offensively, in general. They were 0-for-13 with the man advantage over their previous six games, but a perfect 2-for-2 effort on Monday snapped that string and anchored a 3-2 win. San Jose never trailed in the contest, as Torrey Mitchell scored the team's only even-strength goal just over a minute into the game to provide an early 1-0 lead. With the game tied 1-1 midway through the second, captain Joe Thornton put the Sharks back on top with a power-play tally, his 15th of the season. Edmonton fought back again to tie the game at 2-2 after 40 minutes, but Logan Couture struck just 38 seconds into the third period with another power-play marker to put San Jose ahead for good. 

"We needed this really bad," Thornton said. "We're struggling right now and to come in here and get a big win, every game is so important for us. The playoffs have already started for us. It was just a huge two points for us.

"Hopefully this gives some guys some confidence."

The Sharks hope some of that confidence carries over into Tuesday, when they play the second of back-to-back nights and their third game in four days to close out a four-game road trip.

Flames: The 29th goal of the season for captain Jarome Iginla was the only real action in the first two periods of Sunday's matchup between the visiting Flames and Minnesota. That proved to be the calm before the storm, as each team struck for three goals in the third, with the Flames holding on for a 4-3 win. Nineteen-year-old Sven Baertschi scored his first NHL goal 1:43 into the final period and gave Calgary a 2-0 edge. But two goals by Erik Christensen 2:20 apart quickly erased the lead and pulled the Wild even, prompting Flames coach Brent Sutter to call timeout.

"I got blood pressure pills. Believe me," Sutter said. "We had some shifts there where we had guys standing around and let them get some momentum on us. But you know what? We found a way to be resilient there, too."

That resilience manifested itself midway through the period, when the red-hot Curtis Glencross set a new career high with his 25th goal of the season to put Calgary ahead 3-2. Less than five minutes later, Olli Jokinen notched his 21st goal, which proved to be the game-winner as Minnesota scored with just 1:04 remaining to provide the final margin. Miikka Kiprusoff made 24 saves for his 31st win of the season, which ranks fifth in the League.

"It's huge for us," Glencross said. "We've been battling, and we've been kind of nipping at the heels here for a while. We're playing well right at the right time."
Who's Hot: With a goal and an assist in the win over the Oilers, Thornton has five points in his past three games, including two multi-point nights. … Glencross has scored in seven consecutive games, the longest such streak in the NHL this season. If he finds the back of the net on Tuesday night, he will tie Kent Nilsson and Gary Roberts for the Flames’ record of eight straight games with a goal. In addition, Iginla has a four-game goal-scoring streak and Alex Tanguay (2-8-10) is riding a six-game point streak.

Injury Report: While a lot has been going right for Calgary recently, its list of injured players remains lengthy. Forwards Blake Comeau (shoulder) and Michael Cammalleri (upper body) are questionable to play on Tuesday, while blueliner T.J. Brodie (upper body) and forwards Tim Jackman (upper body) and Lance Bouma (upper body) are doubtful. Defenseman Chris Butler (leg) and forwards Mikael Backlund (arm), Blair Jones (fractured ankle) and Lee Stempniak (high-ankle sprain) are all still on IR. … Contrary to the Flames, the Sharks are totally healthy with the exception of Martin Havlat (hamstring), who is still a week or two away from returning.

Stat Pack: Scoring has become a serious concern for the Sharks, who have posted three or fewer goals in each of their last 13 contests (3-8-2). The last time they scored more than three goals in a game was a 6-5 overtime loss at Tampa Bay on Feb. 16. Meanwhile, Calgary has been lighting the lamp with regularity in March, averaging 4.5 goals per game over their four victories this month. … Remarkably, the Flames have opened the scoring in 11 straight games. They are 23-9-5 when scoring first (62.2 winning percentage, 19th in the League), while San Jose is 11-20-7 when falling behind 1-0 (28.9 winning percentage, 19th in the League).

Puck Drop: Every successful team needs a little good fortune once in a while -- and if a team is going to get lucky, the homestretch of the season is the time to do it. After coughing up a 2-0 lead in the third period of Sunday’s contest in Minnesota, lady luck -- and a bit of hustle and good positioning -- propelled the Flames back into the lead. There were three odd occurrences before Glencross eventually put the pack past Matt Hackett. Firstly, Wild defenseman Steven Kampfer blocked a shot, but had the stick knocked out of his hands and to the ice in the process.

Secondly, Tom Gilbert -- who then retrieved the puck in the far corner -- tried to pass to a teammate near the faceoff dot to start a rush up-ice, but his attempt hit Kampfer's stick and went awry. Iginla swooped in between two Minnesota players to poke the loose puck forward and set himself up for a slap shot. Then came the third -- and most extreme -- fortunate occurrence: Iginla whiffed on the blast and fell to ice, but he caught just enough of the puck to accidentally steer it to a wide-open Glencross, who swept it into a gaping net.    

"That was nice, right?" Iginla said. "That was a pretty good break. I was trying to shoot that and fell on my face and it went right to him, right in his wheelhouse. Definitely a good break and I can't claim I meant to do that at all."

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