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Stars try to cool off red-hot Sharks

by John Kreiser
STARS (34-23-7) at SHARKS (38-21-6)

TV -- TXA 21 (HD); CSN-California (HD)

Last 10 -- Dallas 4-5-1; San Jose 8-2-0

Season series -- It's the fourth of six meetings between the Pacific Division rivals. Each of the first three went past regulation, with the Stars winning 5-4 in OT and 3-2 in a shootout before the Sharks won 4-3 in OT at Dallas in the last meeting on Dec. 16.

Big story -- In a League replete with teams on a roll, no one has been hotter than the Sharks, who won their eighth in a row on Thursday night by beating Detroit 3-1 to improve to 2-0-0 on their six-game homestand. They've put some space between themselves and the rest of the Pacific Division -- including the Stars, who were on top for most of the season before a 1-8-1 February slump. Dallas moved back into the top eight in the West on Friday by getting a point in a 4-3 OT loss at Anaheim.

Team Scope:

Stars -- The point the Stars didn't get in Anaheim might be the one that comes back to bite them. Dallas led 3-1 with less than 15 minutes to play in regulation, but Lubomir Visnovsky scored to make it a one-goal game and Teemu Selanne tied it with 63 seconds left. The teams appeared headed for OT, but a hooking call against Tom Wandell led to Visnovsky's third goal of the game, a slapper with 3.8 seconds left in OT that sent the Stars to Northern California with just one point.

"It is always a bad feeling when you lose, especially when you lose like this," said forward Loui Eriksson, who scored the last of the Stars' three goals in the second period. "We were up 3-1 going into the third. Every point is so big right now, like you see in the conference. We have a game tomorrow and we have to go out and win and get two points there."

Sharks -- With Antero Niittymaki out due to a lower-body injury, Antti Niemi has given the Sharks the kind of goaltending they were looking for when they signed him last summer. Niemi is likely to start his 21st consecutive game on Saturday -- they are 17-2-1 in those 20 starts. Niemi has played every minute during the eight-game winning streak and now has a 25-15-3 record, a 2.30 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage -- and a new four-year contract. The Sharks, who were last in the division in mid-January, are six points ahead of the field.

Who's hot -- Eriksson had a goal Friday and has 3 goals and 5 points in the Stars' last four games. … San Jose's Patrick Marleau scored Thursday and has 3 goals in his last four games. Joe Thornton has 5 points in his last five games.

Injury report -- Dallas is still without center Brad Richards (concussion) and defenseman Nicklas Grossman (hip) -- both have missed the Stars' last eight games. They are skating, but there's no word when they'll be back. … San Jose is without defensemen Dan Boyle and Kent Huskins as well as checking forward Scott Nichol; all are out with upper-body injuries.

Stat pack -- Joe Thornton had an assist on Thursday to move into sole possession of 55th place on the all-time assist list (684). He's 80th on the all-time points list with 985.

Puck drop -- The Sharks may soon have their first homegrown player. They signed junior defenseman Sena Acolatse, a native of Heyward, Calif., on Friday. Acolatse, who plays for Price George in the WHL, is the first Bay Area native signed by the team.

"I can 100 percent say the San Jose Sharks were the reason I started hockey," the 20-year-old told the team's website. "I remember Mike Ricci was on the team and Jeff Friesen and Owen Nolan. Mike Vernon was in net. Marco Sturm was there, too. I'd have to say my favorite player was Ricci at the time."

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