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Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks

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GAME: Vancouver Canucks (41-24-10-5) at San Jose Sharks (42-20-12-6).

TIME: Friday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

The San Jose Sharks have secured the Pacific Division title and the second seed in the Western Conference.

Two more wins and the Vancouver Canucks will have a division crown of their own.

Vancouver will try to win its fifth straight while ending San Jose's streak streak at five when the teams meet for the final time this season.

The Canucks appeared destined for second place in the Northwest Division when star forward Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs for his hit on Colorado's Steve Moore last month.

After winning just one of the first seven games (1-3-2-1) without Bertuzzi, Vancouver has won four straight to move into a tie with Colorado for the Northwest lead.

Because the Canucks currently have two more wins than the Avalanche, they hold the tiebreaker for the division title and the third seed in the West. Vancouver can secure that spot with wins in its last two games.

"With two games to go, it's in our hands now," goaltender Dan Cloutier said. "It's definitely a good feeling, especially with the way things gave gone recently."

Vancouver was in a similar situation last year when it lost the division title to Colorado on the final day of the regular season.

"We've put ourselves in a good position," Canucks coach Marc Crawford said. "We know we have a tough game coming up against San Jose. But if we are able to come up with a win, we'll put ourselves in a real nice position for our final game."

Brendan Morrison set up the tying goal by Markus Naslund and the game-winner by defenseman Sami Salo with 21 seconds left in the third period, lifting Vancouver to a 2-1 victory at Anaheim Wednesday.

The Canucks' four-game win streak has coincided with the return of Cloutier, who has allowed four goals in four starts after missing two games with a hip injury.

Having already clinched the Pacific Division with Dallas' loss to Edmonton, the Sharks didn't let up and secured the second seed in the West with a 3-0 victory at Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 22 shots for his ninth shutout of the season and Alyn McCauley and Niko Dimitrakos scored 29 seconds apart in the second period.

San Jose, 9-1-1 in its last 11, has outscored opponents 16-5 during a five-game win streak.

Last year, the Sharks finished 14th in the West but rebounded this season to establish a franchise record with 102 points and their highest playoff position.

"We've surprised a lot of people, and even ourselves a little bit," defenseman Kyle McLaren said. "Especially coming off last year and not making the playoffs by a fair bit. We thought we had a good team coming into training camp, but we exceeded expectations. Nobody thought we would be battling for first."

Nabokov has surrendered five goals during a personal four-game win streak.

STANDINGS: Canucks - 97 points, 1st place (tied), Northwest Division. Sharks - 102 points, 1st place, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canucks - Naslund, 34 goals, 48 assists and 82 points; Brad May, 135 PIM. Sharks - Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo, 28 goals; Nils Ekman, 31 assists; Marleau, 56 points; Scott Parker, 101 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 31): Canucks - Power play: 14.8 percent (55 for 372), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.0 percent (301 for 350), 4th. Sharks - Power play: 16.5 percent (54 for 328), 13th. Penalty killing: 85.1 percent (268 for 315), 7th.

GOALTENDERS: Canucks - Cloutier (31-21-6, 5 SO, 2.30 GAA); Johan Hedberg (8-6-2, 3, 2.51). Sharks - Nabokov (30-19-8, 9, 2.19); Vesa Toskala (12-7-4, 1, 2.02).

SEASON SERIES: Sharks, 2-0-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 26; Canucks, 3-2, (OT). At Vancouver, British Columbia, Brent Sopel scored his second power-play goal of the game 2:14 into overtime to lift the Canucks.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canucks - 21-11-3-5 on the road; Sharks - 23-7-7-2 at home.


Associated Press
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