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Sharks-Predators Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: San Jose Sharks (44-27-11) at Nashville Predators (49-25-8).

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals; Game 1.

TIME: Friday, 8 p.m. EDT.

The Nashville Predators were the NHL's best team at home this season. After earning home-ice advantage in a playoff round for the first time in their history, they'll look to take advantage when they meet the San Jose Sharks in the series opener.

By finishing fourth in the West in what has been the most successful season in their seven-year history, the Predators guaranteed themselves one extra game in the first round at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, where they went a league-best 32-8-1.

Nashville lost consecutive home games only once this season, and has won four straight and 11 of 13 at its home arena. The Predators have also won five in a row at home against the Sharks.

"This place is great to play in," forward Paul Kariya said. "That's why home-ice is so important. It's nice to be playing this way, but we need to pick our game up a lot in the playoffs. It's a whole new season."

Nashville recorded the highest victory and point total in franchise history and earned a playoff berth for the second straight season after making the postseason for the first time in 2003-04.

Nashville defeated Detroit 6-3 on Tuesday night to close the regular season with six straight wins. The Preds outscored opponents 22-7 during that span and recorded two shutouts.

Kariya notched his ninth career hat trick Tuesday and his first since Oct. 31, 2002.

"That was a good way to come into the playoffs I think," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I think Paul always prepares himself for whatever he does. If that's an indication of how he's going to play in the playoffs, he stands a good chance to have a big impact."

Kariya has six goals and nine assists in his last nine home games, and his four goals against the Sharks are tied for his second-highest total against any opponent this season.

A big question mark for Nashville exists in goal, but Chris Mason has been outstanding since No. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun was placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season with pelvic thrombophlebitis. Mason has gone 6-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and two shutouts since Vokoun's season ended April 3.

Mason is 0-1-1 with a 2.62 GAA in his career against San Jose. He made 33 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Sharks on Nov. 2 in his only game against the Sharks this season.

While the Preds boast a strong home-ice advantage as they look to advance, they'll be facing a Sharks club that rolled to a postseason spot with eight straight victories before dropping its regular-season finale 4-0 to Los Angeles on Monday.

In danger of missing the playoffs just a few weeks ago, the fifth-seeded Sharks surged to their second straight postseason berth and finished with 99 points, the second-highest total in franchise history.

San Jose boasts the league's top scorers in Joe Thornton, who had 125 points, and Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored a franchise-record 56 goals.

The Sharks went 36-15-7 after Thornton was acquired from Boston on Nov. 30, and Cheechoo has 49 goals since Thornton joined the lineup, with Thornton assisting on 38 of them.

"From day one, I just played real well with Cheech," Thornton said. "You don't plan for something like this. These two awards are definitely team-oriented, and we're just happy for each other."

Thornton has a six-game point streak against the Predators with five goals and five assists over that span, while Cheechoo had two goals and an assist in the four-game season series.

San Jose's Vesa Toskala has won seven straight games, posting a 1.84 GAA with one shutout in those contests. The four-year veteran has won his last five road games, and is 2-1 with a 2.09 GAA in his career against Nashville.

The Predators and Sharks have never met in the playoffs. Game 2 will be Sunday afternoon before the series shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Sharks - 99 points; 5th seed. Predators - 106 points; 4th seed.

REGULAR SEASON TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Cheechoo, 56 goals; Thornton, 96 assists and 125 points; Mark Smith, 97 PIM. Predators - Kariya and Steve Sullivan, 31 goals; Kariya, 54 assists and 85 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 163 PIM.

REGULAR SEASON SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 18.2 percent (91 for 500), 13th. Penalty killing: 80.7 percent (322 for 399), 23rd. Predators - Power play: 18.4 percent (94 for 512), 10th. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (451 for 533), 5th.

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Toskala (23-7-4, 2 SO, 2.56 GAA); Evgeni Nabokov (16-19-7, 1, 3.10). Predators - Mason (15-5-1, 2, 2.54); Pekka Rinne (1-1, 0, 3.81)

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: 2-2. All four games were decided by one goal, with both of San Jose's wins coming in overtime. The home team won every game in the series.

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