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Sharks were just looking to break losing streak

by John Kreiser
Lost in all the hype surrounding Joe Thornton's return to Boston this week is the fact that the San Jose Sharks headed to TD Banknorth Garden with a three-game losing streak.

Only one -- a 4-2 home loss to Chicago on Jan. 31 -- came in regulation. But the other two were just as disappointing. San Jose blew a 3-1 lead in a 4-3 shootout loss to Carolina at the Shark Tank on Feb. 5 and dominated Columbus for most of the night but lost 3-2 at Nationwide Arena two nights later.

That made the game against Boston important for more than just the curiosity value of having the League's top two teams meet for the only time in the regular season.

"It's a big game for the obvious reason, of course," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "But it's also going to be a very emotional game for everyone, and there are always lingering effects after those kinds of games.

"When we played Detroit (two weeks ago), that was a very emotional game for both sides, and then we came back against Vancouver with that trap of theirs and that was kind of a blah game, and we haven't really played well since. Plus Detroit went through their own little spell, so I think those games have an effect on a team for a while."

Thornton downplayed his return to Boston, saying that because of roster turnover, there weren't many familiar faces on his old club.

"There aren't too many ex-teammates over there, and it's just really an important game in the schedule," he said. "They're the best in the East and we're the best in the West. So it's an important game that way rather than I'm playing against friends, I think."

But could Thornton envision his new team facing his old one in the Stanley Cup Final?

"You wonder a little bit, but obviously we've still got a lot of hockey to work out here," he said. "If that were to be the case it would be great because both teams made it there, but I think both teams would agree we've still got a lot of work ahead of us."

The Sharks will be doing a lot of that work on the road. The game against Columbus marked a stretch in which San Jose plays 14 of 20 games away from the Shark Tank -- including visits to Pittsburgh, Buffalo and New Jersey before the current trip concludes Sunday.

Ten spot -- The sellout crowd that turned out at the American Airlines Center on Feb. 6 saw a piece of Dallas Stars history.

The Stars' 10-2 victory against the New York Rangers marked the biggest offensive night since the franchise relocated from Minnesota for the 1993-94 season. The then-North Stars reached double figures seven times, most recently in a 10-3 victory Nov. 28, 1992; the franchise record is 15, on Nov. 11, 1981.

Six of the Stars' goals came in the third period, also a record since the franchise moved to Dallas. Five came in a span of 6:20 in the third period. Dallas came within 26 seconds of breaking a club record for fastest three goals scored when it got three in a span of 1:10 (the record is 44 seconds in a third-period comeback win against Boston on Oct. 14, 1995).

The offensive explosion came one night after one of the Stars' worst games -- a 3-2 loss at Colorado that infuriated coach Dave Tippett.

"Our guys, you could tell, we weren't satisfied with the way we played," Tippett said of the performance at the Pepsi Center. "Our guys came in with a very determined attitude today. Our guys concentrated on the effort and we got a good one."

The biggest goal of the night came late in the second period, when Steve Ott's forechecking freed the puck for Mike Ribeiro, who beat Steve Valiquette with a high shot from the lower right circle to make it 4-2.

Ribeiro finished the night with 2 goals and a team-high 4 points.

"We'll take it," Ribeiro said of the big win. "We didn't show up (Thursday) night.  It looked like a close game but we didn't deserve to win (Thursday) night, and it was a good effort from everyone. Everyone worked hard and even though they took the lead, 1-0, we kept pushing them. It's good to see that when you have a bad game, you can come back the way we did."

Finding his game -- For the Anaheim Ducks to make a playoff run -- or maybe even just to earn a postseason berth -- they're going to need a return to form from goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

The 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has struggled for the past two months and has lost a lot of playing time to backup Jonas Hiller.

But if his performance in Saturday's 2-1 victory at Calgary is any indication, Giguere may have turned the corner. He looked sharp in making 26 saves for his first victory since beating New Jersey 4-3 on Jan. 11.

Giguere appeared to have lost his focus after the death of his father in mid-December. His performance against the Flames was his best since then.

"It's a long time coming," Giguere said. "To get a win on the road, in a tight game where the whole team played well and I was able to make a contribution to the win -- I haven't felt that way in a while. Hopefully I will be able to bottle this feeling and be able to use it again."

It's been a tough time for Giguere on and off the ice.

"You're paid to perform," he said. "People expect you to give your best. Hopefully, these last couple of months made me a better goalie. That's all I can ask. I know the fans in Anaheim are really understanding of what went on."

Giguere had played well in a 4-2 loss at Nashville two nights earlier, and coach Randy Carlyle hopes his No. 1 goaltender is ready to go on a run.

"He played very well in the last game in Nashville and really couldn't be faulted," Carlyle said. "Your goaltenders don't have to win you games, but they have to give you a chance and he's been known for giving our hockey club a chance for a long time. Hopefully this game and the Nashville game, he can use it as a springboard to getting back to where he needs to be."

Take a break -- Your team has just been routed 7-2 at home, its sixth loss in a row since the All-Star break. You've dropped out of the top eight in the West. What do you do if you're Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky?

Give your team a day off.

Despite the blowout loss to Carolina on Saturday night, Sunday was a day of rest for the Coyotes -- largely because when Gretzky and his staff met at the end of last season, one change they decided on was more time off for the players. That meant fewer practice days, fewer morning skates, reduced off-ice training and more overall rest.

The goal: To help the Coyotes combat a hectic travel schedule that features 15 sets of back-to-back games and to help avoid a second-half breakdown like the one that happened in 2007-08.

"We looked at last year and tried to assess and analyze everything that happened with our big meltdown," associate coach Ulf Samuelsson said. "We felt a few more days off would give us more energy towards the end of the year."

The Coyotes will travel approximately 51,000 miles to play 41 their road games. Only three teams -- the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars -- will put in more travel time. This season's scheduling revisions also mean the Coyotes will play eight more games against Eastern Conference teams and make two more trips to the Eastern Time Zone than they did last season.

"It definitely helps us mentally more than anything," defenseman Derek Morris said. "Our physical shape is good. It's just about getting away from the game. It gets a little monotonous at times. It's nice to get a mental break to get your head cleared for the next day."

"Our physical shape is good. It's just about getting away from the game. It gets a little monotonous at times. It's nice to get a mental break to get your head cleared for the next day"
-- Derek Morris

The Coyotes went 26-21-2 in the first 50 games of 2007-08, but just 12-16-5 after that. Gretzky hopes the extra rest will avoid a repeat.

"It's important and imperative for the guys who play a lot of minutes that they are rested physically and mentally," Gretzky said. "It's also important for the guys who don't play as much to be mentally as fresh."

Ice chips -- Dallas forward Steve Ott tied his career high by scoring his 11th goal of the season in the Stars' 4-1 win against Nashville on Feb. 8. He also extended his career-high points streak to eight games. Forward Jere Lehtinen had 2 assists, giving him points in eight consecutive games. ... Brian Sutherby's shorthanded goal against the Predators was just the second of the season by the Stars. Loui Eriksson had the other, against New Jersey on New Year's Eve. The Stars have allowed just one shorthanded goal, tied with Detroit for the second-fewest in the NHL. ... San Jose forward Mike Grier played in his 900th NHL game Feb. 7 against Columbus. The 11-year veteran has 146 goals and 195 assists for 341 points, including 9 goals and 19 points this season. ... San Jose lost 4-3 in a shootout to Carolina despite outshooting the Hurricanes 40-29. It was the sixth time this season the Sharks have lost a game in which they outshot their opponent by 11 or more. ... Anaheim's Corey Perry has been one of the NHL's hottest scorers over the past couple of weeks. He had 2 goals against Nashville on Tuesday and the game-winner at Calgary on Saturday, giving him 9 goals in 10 games and making him the first Duck to reach the 20-goal mark this season. ... The Ducks made a pair of minor trades last week, acquiring forward Mike Brown from Vancouver for defenseman Nathan McIver, and landing defenseman Sheldon Brookbank from New Jersey for center David McIntyre. ... Phoenix captain Shane Doan's goal in a 7-2 loss to Carolina on Saturday was the 248th of his career, all with the Jets/Coyotes franchise. He tied Paul MacLean for fourth on the franchise's all-time goals list. ... The Coyotes continue to struggle against Detroit's power play. The Wings scored a power-play goal with 39 seconds left for a 5-4 win at Detroit on Feb. 4, giving the defending Stanley Cup champions 7 goals in 11 opportunities against the Coyotes this season. ... Patrick O'Sullivan's penalty-shot goal in Los Angeles' 3-1 win at New Jersey on Saturday was the Kings' first in three tries this season; O'Sullivan and Alexander Frolov had been stopped earlier in the season. The Kings are 13-for-40 on penalty shots since entering the NHL in 1967. ... The victory against the Devils lifted the Kings to 23-21-7, putting them two games above the NHL's break-even mark for the first time this season -- quite an achievement for a team that finished next-to-last overall last season.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report
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