Before this season began, the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars both expected to contend for the Pacific Division title and make a serious run for the Stanley Cup. To this point, only one looks likely to fulfill those predictions.
The first-place Sharks look to win their sixth straight game on Friday when they visit the last-place Stars, who hope to win consecutive games for the first time all season.
San Jose (18-3-1) won its fourth Pacific Division title last season as it finished with a franchise-high 108 points, but its Stanley Cup dreams were dashed by Dallas (7-10-4) in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Stars, who eventually lost to eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit in the conference finals, have been unable to carry over any success from last season.
Dallas has the fewest points in the West, and is tied with Atlanta and Florida for the fewest in the league (18). The Stars are already 19 points back of the Sharks, who have a NHL-best 37 points and a 10-point lead over second-place Anaheim.
San Jose defeated Chicago 3-2 in overtime at home on Wednesday to earn its fifth straight win and improve to 12-1-1 since Oct. 25. Joe Thornton gathered in a loose puck off a fortuitous bounce and scored the game winner on a give-and-go with Ryane Clowe 45 seconds into the extra session.
"It's a 50-50 puck, and sometimes it goes your way," said Thornton, who has four goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak.
Captain Patrick Marleau tied the score midway through the third period with his 11th goal of the season. Marleau, who has four goals and five assists during a six-game point streak of his own, had a goal and an assist in the Sharks' 2-1 win over the Stars on Nov. 8 in San Jose.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov stopped 26 shots in his return on Wednesday after missing the previous seven games with a lower-body injury. Nabokov, who missed just five games all of last season, could be in net again on Friday.
Although Dallas has been sputtering along all season, it rallied to defeat Minnesota 4-3 on Wednesday.
Down 3-1 late in the second period, the Stars tied the game on goals by James Neal and Brad Richards, then took the lead when Loui Eriksson scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season with seven minutes to play in the third.
"Maybe this is a tide-turner," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "We're still a work in progress, but we got rewarded tonight for a little bit of hard work."
In the victory, the Stars snapped a three-game losing streak and scored their most goals since a 5-2 win over Anaheim on Nov. 7 - a span of eight games.
"We needed it really bad," said Neal, who had two goals against the Wild to give him three in four games since returning from a stint in the minors.
"It was almost like life or death, and we had a game seven mentality. We needed a win and thank God we got it."
Marty Turco, who made 25 saves Wednesday to end his personal three-game skid, will now try to earn his first home win since Oct. 15. The Stars goaltender is 0-3-2 with a 3.96 GAA since his only home victory this season.