The San Jose Sharks are making a strong push to open the postseason at home. Playing their next three games there could help them move closer to making it happen.
San Jose looks to extend its home point streak to 15 while the Minnesota Wild try to continue their playoff push with a third straight win Thursday night.
With Raffi Torres scoring on his first shootout attempt in two years, the Sharks (23-13-7) moved into fourth-place tie with Los Angeles in a 3-2 victory over the Kings on Tuesday.
It was the start of a four-game homestand for San Jose, 15-1-5 at HP Pavilion this season. The Sharks’ 10-0-4 surge is their longest home point streak since a team-best 31-game stretch March 3, 2008-Jan. 13, 2009.
Antti Niemi has been in net for all but two of San Jose’s home games in 2012-13, and has a 1.76 goals-against average in those contests after making 41 saves Tuesday. It was his 21st consecutive start.
“He’s been a real good workhorse for us,” coach Todd McLellan said. “There’s been guys in the past who played 80 of 82 games in the league. So it’s not uncommon for goaltenders to play a lot. We’re only halfway through what would normally be a regular season. So he looks like he’s got a lot of gas in the tank and is excited about playing.”
Niemi had lost three consecutive starts to the Wild before turning aside 31 shots in a 4-2 home win April 3. The Sharks are 10-1-1 in Minnesota’s last 12 visits.
That doesn’t bode well for a Wild team fighting to secure its first playoff berth in four years. Minnesota (24-16-3), the sixth seed, is four points back of Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead but could also easily fall out of the top eight.
The Wild, though, appear to be on the upswing at the right time, scoring nine goals on the first two stops of their three-game trip. Minnesota, 2-0-1 in its last three, totaled eight goals during a 1-5-1 slump that preceded the latest two games.
“We went through a definite lull where we weren’t playing the way we should, but as of late, we are starting to find our game again,” center Kyle Brodziak said.
Brodziak ended an 11-game goal drought with two in a 5-3 victory over Edmonton on Tuesday.
Niklas Backstrom earned his first shutout of the season with 33 saves in a 2-0 home victory over the Sharks on March 23. Backstrom, though, hasn’t been on his game at San Jose, recording a 3.68 GAA while losing five straight starts there.
Backstrom will have to worry about the Sharks’ Brent Burns who has scored eight goals - including one against the Oilers - in 19 games since McLellan moved him from defense to wing.
Wild leading scorer Zach Parise who snapped an eight-game goal drought Tuesday, has three goals and six assists in a seven-game point streak versus the Sharks.
Minnesota had won four straight in this series prior to its visit to San Jose earlier this month.
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