The fourth and final regular-season meeting between the Western Conference's top two teams will take center stage at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, GCL) when the Detroit Red Wings
host the San Jose Sharks
The Wings (39-13-8), who trail San Jose (41-8-9) by five points in the standings, have lost two of the past three meetings with the Sharks, but the home team has captured each of the three games of the series thus far.
A San Jose victory certainly would go a long way in possibly knocking the defending Stanley Cup champion from its four-season reign atop the Western Conference standings and would give the Sharks the tie-breaker advantage should the teams finish the regular season tied in points and victories. San Jose enters the contest riding a four-game win streak and is 5-1-4 in its last 10 games. The Wings are 7-2-1 in their last 10, but have won just two of their last five matches.
It appears as if Detroit coach Mike Babcock will start goaltender Ty Conklin
as Chris Osgood
remains sidelined on a 10-day "mental breather" that ends Friday. Conklin (21-7-1, 2.32 GAA, .915 save percentage), who beat the Sharks on 24 saves in a 6-0 victory Dec. 18, has won all five of his starts this month.
Conklin has been superb at home this season. Not only does he sport a 12-1-0 mark with a 1.77 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and four shutouts at Joe Louis Arena, but he has won 11 consecutive games in Detroit.
San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov
, who ranks second in the League in wins (32) and is 13th in goals-against average (2.44), is the likely starter for Sharks coach Todd McLellan
On Monday, Nabokov halted 29 shots in a 1-0 victory in Dallas to notch his fifth shutout of the season and help the Sharks reach a League-high 91 points.
McLellan was thrilled with the effort.
"He was the first, second and third star, in my opinion," McLellan said. "He allowed us to escape with the point. I'm happy for Nabby. On the last road trip a lot of pucks went by him and it wasn't his fault. This was really good for him as an individual and us as a team."
Detroit leads the League with 222 goals, including an NHL-best 74 on the power play. And their power play is the League's best at 27.8 percent.
Second on the list is the Sharks, at 24.1 percent, which could be something to watch when it matches up with the Wings' 28th-ranked penalty killing (77.5 percent).
"It's one of those games that you really look forward to. They've been playing really well and they've got a great team, good goaltending and a great roster overall. It'll be a great matchup. It feels like we're ready for them."
-- Niklas Kronwall
Detroit forwards Pavel Datsyuk
(2 goals, 6 points) and Marian Hossa
(3 goals, 6 points) have led the club in scoring against San Jose this season, while forward Valtteri Filppula
(2 goals) and defenseman Brian Rafalski
(2 goals) have chipped in with 3 points apiece. Reigning Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom
leads the Red Wings with 55 career points against San Jose, including 44 assists, in 62 games.
"It's one of those games that you really look forward to," Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall
said. "They've been playing really well and they've got a great team, good goaltending and a great roster overall. It'll be a great matchup. It feels like we're ready for them."
The last meeting between the clubs occurred Jan. 17 in San Jose when the Sharks scored a memorable 6-5 victory. The game also featured 12 penalties, including seven roughing minors -- perhaps a sign the teams have a mutual dislike for each other despite the fact Wednesday's contest will be just the 67th all-time meeting. Detroit has won 44 games compared to San Jose's 18 wins; four matches ended in a tie.