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Sharks host Wild in battle of surging teams

by Dan Myers

WILD (28-20-5) at SHARKS (33-12-6)


Last 10: Minnesota 7-3-0; San Jose 7-3-0

Season series: Joe Pavelski scored two goals and Antti Niemi made 30 saves when the San Jose Sharks defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Dec. 12 at SAP Center in the last game between the teams. This is the third and final game, with each team having won at home.

Big story: The Sharks, who agreed to three-year contract extensions Friday with forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, have won five games in a row and will look to keep it going against a Wild team that has won eight of 11.

Team Scope:

Wild: After losing six straight games around the holidays, Minnesota has heated up in 2014, going 8-3-0 in the new year. Much of that damage was done without the benefit of forward Zach Parise, who returned to the lineup Thursday in a 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks after missing 14 games with a fractured left foot.

Despite missing 15 games this season, Parise still ranks eighth in the NHL with eight power-play goals and is second on the Wild with 15 goals.

"He's a puck-hound," coach Mike Yeo said. "He chases and pursues, he's relentless, creates turnovers and you end up having the puck more when he's on the ice."

Sharks: A win against the Wild would give San Jose its third six-game winning streak of the season. The Sharks have the NHL's second-best home record and have owned the Wild at SAP Center over the years: Minnesota hasn't won at San Jose since a 2-1 victory on Dec. 6, 2011, and has won only one in nine games in San Jose since the start of the 2009-10 season.

One intriguing storyline to watch is whether the Sharks go back starter Antti Niemi or give a second straight start to South St. Paul, Minn., native Alex Stalock. The backup goaltender has back-to-back shutouts, including a 1-0 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. He hasn't allowed a goal in 140:59.

"Obviously it feels good to get a shutout," Stalock said. "I've maybe seen 40 shots and you see that sometimes in one game. It says a lot to spread that out between two games, you put it on a team effort, clearing away rebounds, it makes it a lot simpler."

Who's hot: Wild forward Matt Cooke has nine points in his past 14 games and has been a crucial offensive catalyst on Minnesota's underrated third line, a group tasked nightly with playing against the opponent's top line. He's also tied for the team lead with a plus-10 rating and plays big minutes on the top penalty-killing unit. … From a goal-scoring standpoint, nobody in the NHL is hotter than the Sharks' Pavelski. He scored the only goal in the win against the Jets on Thursday, giving him seven in four games and 19 in the past 21. Pavelski's 28 goals are second to Alex Ovechkin's 35 for the NHL lead.

Injury report: Wild forward Mikko Koivu (fractured ankle), defenseman Jared Spurgeon (foot) and goaltender Josh Harding (illness) are on injured reserve. … Sharks forwards Logan Couture (hand surgery), Tomas Hertl (knee surgery), Raffi Torres (knee surgery) and Adam Burish (back surgery) and defenseman Scott Hannan (upper body) are on injured reserve.

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