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Stars, Sharks battle with first place on the line

by Brian Hunter /
STARS (17-10-2) at SHARKS (15-10-4)


Last 10: Dallas 7-2-1; San Jose 6-4-0

Season series: Second of six meetings this season between these Pacific Division rivals, who play again Thursday in Dallas. After that, these teams won’t meet until March. In the only matchup so far, Mike Ribeiro forced overtime by scoring with 2:06 left in regulation, then tallied again 2:52 into overtime on Nov. 18 as the Stars took a 5-4 decision over the Sharks.

Big story: Dallas enters tied with Anaheim for first place in the Pacific after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons. San Jose, which is used to owning the division crown, can also grab a share of the top spot with a regulation win Monday.
Team Scope:

Stars: With Kari Lehtonen bothered by a bad back, Dallas rode Andrew Raycroft during a three-games-in-four-nights stretch. Raycroft split decisions against Chicago and Carolina, but Saturday in Phoenix was not his best effort as he was pulled midway through the third period in a 5-2 loss in the desert. The Stars trailed 3-0 after the first and goals by James Neal and Loui Eriksson weren’t nearly enough to bring them back.

"Hopefully, with getting a little bit of a cheesy goal late, it might relax our guys a bit," coach Marc Crawford said of Eriksson's power-play score, which he stuffed in at the left post after a Brenden Morrow drive ricocheted off the end boards. "I know our team on the road will get more relaxed and the execution will be better." 

Sharks: Playing against his former team brings out the best in San Jose goalie Antti Niemi, who made 28 saves Saturday night in a 2-1 overtime win against Chicago. Niemi, who led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup as a rookie last season, has won twice in as many starts against them since signing with the Sharks. He was supported by a pair of Ryane Clowe goals, the second coming with 1:08 left in the extra period.

"Clowe did a lot of the grunt work," coach Todd McLellan said. "The good sign for us is we found our legs a little bit later in the game and found a way to win."

Who's hot: Neal has scored in three-straight games for the Stars. He has 5 goals and 4 assists during a seven-game points streak. ... Clowe has 3 goals and 5 assists during a four-game points streak for the Sharks and is one point behind Dany Heatley for the team scoring lead.

Injury report: Dallas recalled defenseman Mark Fistric from his AHL conditioning assignment and he could make his return from a groin injury. Lehtonen is day-to-day, while forwards Krys Barch (foot/ankle) and Toby Petersen (hand) are on injured reserve. ... San Jose is without forward Devin Setoguchi and defenseman Kent Huskins due to upper-body injuries.

Stat pack: Richard Bachman made his NHL debut in relief of Raycroft against the Coyotes and stopped all four shots he faced in 9:35 of action. ... Marc-Edouard Vlasic assisted on both of Clowe’s goals against the Blackhawks after not having a point over the first 27 games of the season.

Puck drop: This completes a brief two-game respite on home ice for San Jose, which started the month with a five-game road trip and heads back out for three more away from HP Pavilion after Monday night. While the Stars get to head home and rest for a couple days prior to Thursday’s rematch, the Sharks must first face the Predators on Wednesday.

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