San Jose (39-23-8) at Dallas (37-24-8)

By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Senior Writer Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011 Puck Drop: 8:30 pm EDT Tue Mar 15, 2011

The San Jose Sharks have a rather tenuous lead in the Pacific Division. They certainly won’t be able to hold that lead if they keep playing anything like they did the last time they hit the ice.

The Dallas Stars know they can’t afford too many more losses if they hope to catch San Jose.

Two of the teams vying for the title in the tightly-packed Pacific square off Tuesday night in Dallas, where the Stars can pull within two points of the Sharks with a fifth victory in six meetings against their division rivals.

San Jose (39-23-8) seemed to be pulling away in the Pacific on March 3, when it stretched its winning streak to eight by beating Detroit. That victory - the Sharks’ 17th in 20 games - gave them a six-point division lead.

What was the NHL’s hottest team has cooled down over the past 10 days. San Jose is 1-2-2 in a five-game stretch that began when it fell 3-2 to Dallas (37-24-8) on March 5, with Monday’s 6-3 loss at Chicago its first defeat by more than one goal since Jan. 13.

“If I was going to sum up the game: They skated and we glided,” coach Todd McLellan said.

“We were looking for a win the easy way. I don’t know why we chose that route tonight, but it’s not the recipe we’ve followed for success.”

Los Angeles and Phoenix are three points behind the Sharks for the division lead, while Dallas sits four points back. Both the Kings and Stars have one game in hand.

Dallas could have gone into Tuesday’s game with a chance to pull even had things gone differently Sunday against Los Angeles. Jamie Langenbrunner(notes) tied the score with 43 seconds left, but the Kings’ Michal Handzus(notes) scored with 20.8 seconds remaining to deal the Stars a tough 3-2 loss.

It was Dallas’ first regulation defeat following a 6-0-2 stretch, but coach Marc Crawford didn’t sound overly concerned.

“It was a well-played game, very much like a playoff game with the hitting and the intensity,” Crawford told the NHL’s official website. “We’re going to be better for this. We just have to again not be disparaged by it and even though it is disheartening, we have to move forward from it.”

Each of the four meetings in this season series has been decided by one goal, including a shootout and a 4-3 San Jose overtime victory Dec. 16 at Dallas, thanks to Logan Couture’s(notes) power-play tally. That’s the Sharks’ only win in their last five tries against the Stars.

Perhaps Dallas’ biggest edge has come with the man advantage. The Stars have gone 4 for 11 (36.4 percent) on the power play in the season series, while Couture’s overtime winner was San Jose’s only success in 16 chances (6.3 percent).

The Sharks are 30-9-3 when they score a power-play goal and 9-14-5 when they don’t.

San Jose scored the game’s first goal Monday before a five-goal second became its undoing in Chicago. Getting an early lead on Dallas could prove critical. The Stars are an NHL-best 28-3-2 when scoring first, and a conference-best 22-1-1 when leading after one period.

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