The San Jose Sharks used a shootout win last week against the Nashville Predators to rebound from a disappointing effort. With another victory over the Predators, the Sharks would make franchise history and regain the Western Conference lead.
San Jose will try for a team-record 109 points Thursday night in Nashville and attempt to move two ahead of idle Detroit in the West with eight games remaining for both clubs.
The Sharks (48-14-11) were three points behind the Red Wings following a 4-3 loss at Phoenix on March 17, which prompted a 90-minute, closed-door meeting among players, coaches and general manager Doug Wilson.
With a 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Predators two nights later, they launched a three-game win streak that pushed them back in first for two days until Detroit’s victory Tuesday night in Edmonton.
Despite scoring twice in the final 5:07 of regulation Wednesday night, San Jose missed an opportunity to match last season’s 108 points and take the conference lead with a 6-5 shootout loss at Chicago. The Sharks used the point to tie Detroit atop the West standings and in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
“I just went to the net,” said Joe Thornton, who scored the tying goal with 2:08 remaining. “I just drove wide and shot and it just happened to go to the back of the net.”
With a goal and an assist Wednesday, Thornton has four goals and seven points in the last five games. Devin Setoguchi scored twice, giving him four goals and six points in the last four following a 15-game span in which he had a goal and three assists.
The team’s other top-line forward, Patrick Marleau, is expected to return after missing Wednesday’s game due to the birth of his second son.
Jeremy Roenick assisted on the tying goal in his return from a shoulder injury, but Rob Blake, Ryan Clowe, Marcel Goc, Mike Grier, Kent Huskins, Tomas Plihal and Claude Lemieux are expected to remain sidelined for the injury plagued Sharks.
To take the conference lead, San Jose will need to improve on its recent road struggles as five of its final nine games are away from home. After beginning the season 14-5-4 on the road, the Sharks are 4-6-3 as visitors since Feb. 11.
They will attempt to win their fourth straight in Nashville and add to a 6-0-1 mark against the Predators over the last two seasons. Nashville took a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 11 in San Jose, but the Sharks won 4-1 six nights later at the Sommet Center.
Evgeni Nabokov, who is 9-1-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 12 starts, has five straight victories over the Predators with a 1.58 GAA.
Nashville (35-30-8) comes in a point behind eighth-place Edmonton, but won’t have an easy road to a fifth straight playoff berth. After Thursday, the Predators have two games apiece with three of the West’s other top six teams - Detroit, Chicago and Columbus.
Nashville opened its three-game homestand Tuesday night with its third straight loss beyond regulation - a 2-1 shootout defeat to Anaheim that allowed the Ducks to catch the Predators in the standings.
“We need to start getting some wins,” said forward Steve Sullivan, whose team has earned a point in five straight games. “Getting one point every night is not our hockey and coming down the stretch, it’s not going to be good enough.”
Nashville captain Jason Arnott, who has a team-leading 27 goals, is expected to miss a seventh straight game due to a concussion.