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Sharks return home to face desperate Stars

by John Kreiser

STARS (32-27-14) at SHARKS (44-19-10)

Last 10
-- Dallas 4-4-2; San Jose 4-5-1

Season series -- It's Game 5 in this season's six-game series, and the Stars have had the better of the outcomes so far, taking three of the first four. Dallas has won both of its visits to the Shark Tank the same way -- 3-2 in a shootout -- and won the last meeting 8-2 at Dallas on March 16. The teams meet again next Wednesday in Dallas.

Big story -- The Sharks return home after a dreadful 1-5-0 road trip that was salvaged only with a 4-1 win at Minnesota on Tuesday. That victory broke San Jose's overall six-game slide and moved the Sharks back into first place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of Phoenix. The Stars need to continue their success at San Jose if they have any hope of making up a nine-point deficit on eighth-place Detroit in the race for the last playoff berth in the West. But the Shark Tank has been a friendly stop for the Stars, who are 9-2-1 in their last 12 visits to San Jose.

Team Scope:

Stars -- There's still a little tiny bit of hope in Dallas. The Stars are 2-0-1 in their last three games, including a 3-1 win at Nashville on Tuesday that saw the Predators outshoot the Stars 35-14. Dallas won the game on goals 30 seconds apart by Loui Eriksson and Matt Niskanen early in the third period and a 34-save performance by Kari Lehtonen.

This is the second of a four-game trip. The Stars realistically need to sweep all four to have any chance of avoiding back-to-back playoff misses for the first time since 1987 and '88, when the franchise was based in Minnesota.

"It's the start of a big road trip for us, and we wanted to start it off right," defenseman Trevor Daley said. "We did that."

Sharks -- The Sharks were looking taking an 0-fer on their six-game trip before shutting down Minnesota in a game that saw the teams combine for just 36 shots -- only 17 by San Jose. As it was, their 0-5-1 slide (including an OT loss at home to Florida before the trip) was their longest in four seasons.

One big difference was that the Sharks got on the board first after giving up the first goal in each of the five losses on the trip. Goals by Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley put San Jose up 2-0, and they were never threatened.

Coach Todd McLellan wants his team to build off the win and finish strong.

"You say, 'Oh, we're out of it. Whew!' That doesn't work," McLellan said. "When we go home, we've got to have this same mindset."

Who's hot -- Dallas center Brad Richards has 10 points during a six-game scoring streak. He's in the top 10 in scoring with 82 points, including 23 in his last 18 games. … Sharks center Joe Thornton has eight points in his last nine games. Heatley has scored twice in the Sharks' last three games.

Injury report -- Dallas is still without center Mike Modano, who underwent an appendectomy last week. … Sharks center Scott Nichol sat out Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury, though center Jed Ortmeyer (upper-body injury) returned.

Stat pack -- Maybe it's the long change, but the second period is by far the Sharks' worst period defensively. San Jose has allowed 54 first-period goals and 55 in the third period. But in the second period, the Sharks have been burned for 74 goals. Oddly enough, the middle period is also their best offensively -- they've scored 88 times, as opposed to 59 in the first period and 82 in the third.

Puck drop -- The Sharks have to be glad to be home after their trip, but they might have picked a different opponent than the Stars, who are right at home at HP Pavilion. For the Stars to have any playoff hopes, this is a must-win -- as is every game they play for the rest of the season … and even that might not be enough.

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