San Jose (30-20-6) at Florida (23-24-7)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Saturday, Feb 12, 2011 Puck Drop: 5:00 pm EST Sun Feb 13, 2011

The San Jose Sharks have gotten into the thick of the Pacific Division title race on their longest road trip of the season. Visiting the Florida Panthers could help that pursuit.

San Jose looks to rebound from its first regulation loss in nearly a month Sunday when it faces a Panthers team trying to snap its longest home losing streak since 2008.

Faced with a double-digit deficit in the Pacific in mid-January, San Jose (30-20-6) caught Dallas atop the standings thanks to a 9-0-1 stretch. The Sharks, though, fell two points back Friday night when they lost 2-1 at New Jersey while Dallas beat Chicago in a shootout.

“You don’t want to see the streak end, that’s for sure,” said Patrick Marleau(notes), whose 21st goal of the season gave the Sharks to a 1-0 third-period lead. “I think we carried the play a lot of the game and didn’t find the back of the net. It’s something we wanted to keep going. Now we have to start a new one.”

With its season-high five-game winning streak gone, San Jose will continue its seven-game trip with its first visit to BankAtlantic Center since a 4-3 loss Oct. 24, 2008. The Sharks outscored the Panthers 15-6 while winning their previous three visits.

Florida (23-24-7) has dropped five straight at home - four after regulation - for its longest home losing streak since an 0-4-2 skid Dec. 22, 2007-Jan. 13, 2008.

The Panthers’ 3-2 overtime loss to Buffalo on Thursday was their ninth defeat in 11 games overall and their seventh consecutive one-goal contest. They’re 8-7-7 during a stretch of 19 of 22 decided by one score.

“We found a way to lose that point again,” former Sharks first-round pick Steve Bernier(notes) said Thursday after scoring his fifth goal of the season. “It’s frustrating but the last thing we want to do is to put our heads down. When you win, you get confident and go up in the standings.”

There’s a good chance Tomas Vokoun(notes) will be in net to help Florida try to bounce back. The veteran netminder, who has surrendered three or fewer goals in each of his last nine starts, is 9-0-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average in his last 10 games against San Jose.

He turned away 84 of 89 shots to help Florida win the last two matchups, including a 3-2 overtime victory at San Jose on March 13, after losing the previous six.

Antti Niemi(notes) should get his first look at the Panthers in a Sharks jersey. A season after helping Chicago hoist the Stanley Cup, Niemi has cemented himself as San Jose’s No. 1 goaltender, going 8-1-1 with a 1.88 GAA while starting 11 straight games during Antero Niittymaki’s(notes) absence (lower-body injury).

Niemi made 23 saves and posted his first career shutout in his only appearance versus Florida, a 4-0 Blackhawks victory in Sunrise on Oct. 3, 2009.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton(notes), one goal shy of 300, has scored in San Jose’s last two games at Florida.

Marleau has five goals and 12 points in the last eight versus the Panthers.

San Jose is 0 for 6 on the power play over the last three games. Florida has killed all 15 penalties in its last four.

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Sunday, Feb 13