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Vlasic to return for Sharks against Lightning

by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com

LIGHTNING (34-17-6) at SHARKS (29-20-8)

TV: SUN, CSN-CA

SAN JOSE -- After missing four games with an upper-body injury, San Jose Sharks defensemanMarc-Edouard Vlasic will return to the lineup against the Tampa Bay Lightning at SAP Center on Sunday.

Vlasic was activated from injured reserve and defenseman Dylan DeMelo was reassigned to Worcester of the American Hockey League. Vlasic returns in time to face the NHL's highest-scoring team; the Lightning are averaging 3.2 goals per game.

"Any time you can get Marc-Edouard back in the lineup is good timing," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We'll need him tonight. We'll need the other 19 guys to play very good defensively. If we let our guard down because we're getting one of the better defenseman in the league back in our lineup, it won't matter.

"So we expect Marc-Edouard to play a really good, solid game, like he always does, but the other 19 around him are going to have to perform at a very high level for success to occur."

Vlasic practiced Saturday for the first time since going on IR. He said afterwards he was close to being ready to return but expected he'd have to pass one more medical test before being cleared.

"He's been cleared and he's ready to go," McLellan said.

McLellan said he won't set his defensive pairs and decide which defenseman comes out of the lineup until after he sees Tampa Bay's lineup.

With a 5 p.m. PT game, neither the Sharks nor the Lightning had a morning skate.

Goaltender Antti Niemi will make his sixth straight start for the Sharks.

The Sharks were 1-2-1 without Vlasic, their top defenseman. They ended a three-game losing streak Friday with a 4-2 victory against theArizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Forward Joe Pavelski had a hat trick, giving him 52 points and 31 goals, both Sharks highs.

The Sharks (29-20-8) are in second place in the Pacific Division with 66 points. They're one point ahead of the third-placeVancouver Canucks and fourth-placeCalgary Flames, and four points ahead of the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings, who have won four straight games.

The Lightning (34-17-6) are in second place in the Atlantic Division with 74 points, two behind theMontreal Canadiens and two ahead of the Detroit Red Wings.

The Lightning have had two days to rest and recover from their 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday at Amalie Arena. They begin a season-long five-game, 10-day road trip against the Sharks.

"We've been pretty good at responding after something like this has happened," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said after the loss to St. Louis. "This will be another test for us because usually we've been able to come home after times like this instead of embarking on a five-game road trip."

The Lightning sent forward Vladislav Namestnikov to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League on Friday. Cedric Paquette will likely return to the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury.

Here are the projected lineups:

LIGHTNING

Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Cedric Paquette - Valtteri Filppula - Brett Connolly

Jonathan Drouin - Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle

Victor Hedman - Andrej Sustr

Anton Stralman - Mark Barberio

Luke Witkowski - Jason Garrison

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: J.T. Brown, Nikita Nesterov

Injured: Matthew Carle (abdominal surgery), Radko Gudas (knee surgery)

SHARKS

Melker Karlsson - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto

James Sheppard - Chris Tierney - Tommy Wingels

Andrew Desjardins - Tomas Hertl - Barclay Goodrow

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brent Burns

Matt Irwin - Matt Tennyson

Brenden Dillon - Mirco Mueller

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Tyler Kennedy, John Scott, Scott Hannan

Injured: Raffi Torres (knee), Mike Brown (right leg), Justin Braun (left hand), Tye McGinn (upper body), Daniil Tarasov (undisclosed)

Status report: Braun, out with a broken left hand since Jan. 19, practiced Saturday. Sharks coach Todd McLellan said there's a real possibility he'll return Feb. 21 for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against the Kings at Levi's Stadium. ... The Lightning play the Kings on Monday at Staples Center in the second of back-to-back games. Vasilevskiy will probably start one of the two games. Cooper did not reveal his goaltender plans Saturday, but Bishop will likely start against the Sharks.

Who's hot: Kucherov has a five-game point streak with four goals and two assists. ... Johnson has three goals and five points in his past five games. ... Connolly has scored a goal in two straight games and has a three-game point streak (2-2-4). ... Pavelski has six points (4-2-6) in his past five games. ... Thornton has five points (4-1-5) in his past two games, including three assists against Arizona. ... Couture has a five-game point streak (2-5-7).

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