Minnesota (24-18-5) at San Jose (24-19-5)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: San Jose, CA
Temp: 65° F
  • Game info: 10:30 pm EST Sat Jan 22, 2011
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Minnesota Wild have strung together three straight wins to pull within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. So have the San Jose Sharks.

The Wild and Sharks each try to match a season high with their fourth straight victory on Saturday night when they meet at HP Pavilion.

Since finding the back of the net just twice during a three-game losing streak from Jan. 9-14, Minnesota (24-18-5) has outscored its opponents 14-1 while winning its last three.

The Wild improved to 2-0-0 on their four-game trip and won for the ninth time in 12 games away from home with Wednesday’s 6-0 victory over Calgary.

Minnesota moved within one point of eighth-place Colorado and Chicago in the West.

“It’s a tight race,” right wing Chuck Kobasew(notes) said after scoring a goal and setting up another. “Every win helps, but at the end of the night you look at the standings and most teams are winning. You’ve got to do that on a consistent basis and hopefully we can continue that.”

The Sharks (24-19-5) feel the same way after winning their third in a row on Thursday, 2-1 in a shootout at West-leading Vancouver. San Jose had dropped a season-high six straight prior to its current run.

“We’ve just got to get points. That’s the bottom line,” said captain Joe Thornton(notes), who had his three-game goal scoring streak snapped to remain two shy of 300. “We’ve got to get back in this race.”

San Jose, though, will have to start playing better at home for that to happen. After losing just six times in regulation at HP Pavilion last season, the Sharks snapped a six-game skid on home ice last Saturday with a 4-2 win over St. Louis.

San Jose is 6-0-1 against the visiting Wild since a 4-1 loss Oct. 21, 2006, but Minnesota has won both matchups this season.

Niklas Backstrom(notes) stopped 36 shots and earned his 20th career shutout with a 1-0 victory over the Sharks on Nov. 2 before making 29 saves in a 5-3 win on Dec. 29.

The Wild’s veteran netminder returned Wednesday following a nine-game absence with a hip injury and turned away 37 shots.

“Nik did great job,” coach Todd Richards said. “He was big, he was in control. When there were rebounds we fought hard in front of him.”

Backstrom is 1-3-1 with a 3.32 goals-against average in five starts in San Jose.

With Sharks starter Antero Niittymaki(notes) placed on injured reserve after suffering a groin injury during Thursday’s morning skate, Antii Niemi will likely log the majority of minutes the next several games.

Niemi had 36 saves through overtime and stopped all three chances in Thursday’s tiebreaker.

“Nemo stole the show,” said center Joe Pavelski(notes), who scored the lone shootout goal. “They had some good looks.”

Pavelski is hoping to get some of his own after going 13 straight games since his last regulation score Dec. 8. He has missed eight games since then with a lower-body injury.

“Even strength, during the games, goals have been tough to come by,” he said. “If it hasn’t happened for you, which obviously it hasn’t, you have to step up in other ways. It’s a big two points.”

Pavelski has four goals in his last six games versus Minnesota, including the go-ahead score in the teams’ last matchup at HP Pavilion, a 5-2 Sharks victory Jan. 30.

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Saturday, Jan 22