RANGERS (23-11-4) at SHARKS (22-15-5)
TV: FX-CA, MSG, CSN-CA
SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, who missed the past four games with a shoulder injury, was activated from injured reserve and will return to the lineup at SAP Center on Saturday against the surging New York Rangers and former teammate Dan Boyle.
"I've been taking it easy, just trying to get better, and it's been getting better," Thornton said after the Sharks morning skate. "It's a good sign. It feels good. I'm excited to play again tonight."
Thornton's streak of consecutive games ended at 319 on Jan. 3 when he missed San Jose's 7-2 loss at SAP Center to the St. Louis Blues. The Sharks are coming off another 7-2 loss to the Blues on Thursday at Scottrade Center.
"It's huge," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said of Thornton's return. "Obviously all the things that he brings. The list is too long to name them all, but it's a big boost for our club."
Before he was injured, Thornton had been skating on a line with Joe Pavelski, but Thornton will center a line with Marleau and Matt Nieto against the Rangers. Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he wanted to keep the line of Pavelski, center Logan Couture and Melker Karlsson intact.
"Of any line that we've had since Christmas, they've been the most productive," McLellan said. "Melker has been very good finding the net and plays in straight lines. The other two have been arguably our two best defensive players. With (Thornton) coming back and (Marleau) struggling a little bit, maybe they can get each other going here. That's what we'll be looking for."
Karlsson has a four-game goal streak, Couture has five points (1-4-5) over his past three games, and Pavelski has five points (2-3-5) over his past four games.
Boyle will face the Sharks for the first time since signing a two-year contract with the Rangers as a free agent after last season. He was sidelined by a broken hand on Oct. 19 when the Rangers defeated the Sharks 4-0 at Madison Square Garden.
In six seasons with the Sharks, Boyle had 68 goals, 201 assists and 269 points, each a franchise record for defensemen. Boyle, 38, had hoped to re-sign with San Jose but wanted a two-year contract, and the Sharks offered only a one-year contract before trading his rights to the New York Islanders.
The Sharks plan to show a video tribute to Boyle on the big screen over center ice Saturday.
"This place means a lot to me," Boyle said. "I had six great years here. And even last year when things were tough, as bad as it kind of went on the ice, I'm proud of what I did with kind of what I went through. It was six good years. Regardless of the end result, I left here with my head held high on what I left out there on the ice."
Boyle, who plans to move to San Jose after he retires from the NHL, said bragging rights will be on the line against his former team.
"There's a lot of guys that talked smack for six years," Boyle said, smiling. "It will be fun to be on the other side of it. You want to make sure you get the win because there's a lot of guys that have big mouths and they're going to rub it in your face for a little while, and we won't get that chance to settle the score again for another year."
Boyle missed 14 games after being injured in the Rangers opener. Then he was slowed for much of December by a nasty cold or virus. But he's healthy now and has two goals and two assists in his past four games for the Rangers, who have won 12 of their past 13 games.
"He's a great player, and their team's playing good," Pavelski said. "It's not just Dan Boyle out there, obviously. I'm sure his teammates will be trying to play for him and for the Rangers too, for standings. It shouldn't change anything we do. We just have to be ready to play tonight."
Here are the projected lineups:
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller - Dominic Moore - Lee Stempniak
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Matt Hunwick, Tanner Glass
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton- Matt Nieto
Melker Karlsson - Logan Couture - Joe Pavelski
Tommy Wingels - James Sheppard - Tomas Hertl
Barclay Goodrow - Andrew Desjardins - Tye McGinn
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon - Justin Braun
Scott Hannan - Matt Tennyson
Scratched: John Scott, Matt Irwin, Freddie Hamilton
Injured: Tyler Kennedy (shoulder), Raffi Torres (knee), Mike Brown (lower body), Mirco Mueller (upper body)
Status report: Mueller was placed on injured reserve, opening a spot for Thornton on the active roster. … The Rangers, coming off a 4-3 victory Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, will have only one lineup change, with Lundqvist starting after his first night off since Dec. 21.
Who's hot: Karlsson, a rookie, has scored one goal in each of San Jose's past four games, giving him five for the season. … Pavelski leads the Sharks in points (37), goals (21) and power-play goals (10). … Vlasic had game-winning goals Monday against the Winnipeg Jets and Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. … Nash leads the Rangers in goals (25), points (40) and game-winning goals (4). … Boyle produced a point in five of the past seven games with two goals and five assists. … Lundqvist is 10-1-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .936 save percentage over his past 11 games.