The San Jose Sharks have struggled lately while dealing with injuries to some key players. They looked particularly vulnerable in their last meeting with the Minnesota Wild.
Still tied for the top spot in the Western Conference, the Sharks look to protect that position by avenging a disheartening collapse last week when they visit the Wild on Tuesday night.
San Jose (42-12-10) has gone 0-3-1 over its last four games for its longest winless streak of the season. That's at least partially due to the Sharks' injury woes. They've played each of those games without top goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who did not travel with the team for this game because of a lower-body injury.
San Jose is also missing forwards Jeremy Roenick (shoulder), Mike Grier (knee) and Claude Lemieux (upper body). Though Marcel Goc - out since Feb. 10 - could return Tuesday, defenseman Rob Blake joined the growing list of injured Sharks players when he was hit in the foot with a slap shot in San Jose's last game. Blake won't play Tuesday.
Minnesota (32-28-5) took advantage of San Jose's injury problems Thursday night. The Wild fell behind 3-0 at the 9:00 mark of the second period before mounting their comeback. Marek Zidlicky's backhand from mid-ice skittered through backup goalie Brian Boucher's pads for the game-tying goal with 7:37 left in regulation, and Mikko Koivu scored his second goal with 13.3 seconds remaining in overtime to finish the Wild's 4-3 win in San Jose.
Boucher, who called Zidlicky's goal "a bad break," made 26 saves Saturday night, but San Jose's offense was limited in a 3-1 loss at Vancouver. The Sharks missed an opportunity to move ahead of Detroit for the top spot in the West, but first-year coach Todd McLellan was more concerned about his team's lackluster performance than its playoff position.
"We weren't prepared to play at the level we needed to play at," McLellan said. "We have to talk to the leadership, but they have to be prepared night in and night out to compete and if this happens in the playoffs you have no chance of winning so you better start learning some lessons quickly."
As discouraged as he was after his team's most recent defeat, McLellan said he wasn't worried about the struggles becoming a pattern.
"I don't think it's a disease by any means," he said. "We're going through our piece of adversity. We're learning how to deal with it."
The Wild can't be quite as nonchalant because they're outside the playoff picture in the crowded West. They're in 10th place with 69 points, one behind three teams tied for seventh.
Minnesota did its part to keep pace by taking a 3-2 win at Anaheim on Sunday. Stephane Veilleux scored twice as the Wild finished a 2-4-0 road trip.
"With the playoff situation the way it is right now, you can't take a night off," Veilleux said. "Tonight we bounced back, and that's a good thing. We've been facing adversity every night and playing well, and that's what we have to keep doing."
Niklas Backstrom made 36 saves in Sunday's victory after getting pulled in the Wild's 4-3 loss at Los Angeles a day earlier.
"In hockey, you can never get too low or too high. You just have to get ready for the next game and be there," said Backstrom, who's 2-4-2 with a 2.91 goals-against average in eight career games against the Sharks.
"Bad games are part of it, and you move on. We have 17 games left, and after that we'll see where we are. If we can play hockey like this every night, I think we're going to have a good chance."