Wild-Sharks Preview

TOM CASTRO (STATS Senior Editor)

The San Jose Sharks are streaking into the final month of the season, winning five in a row as they battle for playoff positioning in the tightly bunched Western Conference. Extending their run Wednesday night will mean stopping a four-game losing streak against the host Minnesota Wild, who dropped their last game but have also been hot of late as they push for the Northwest Division title. San Jose (18-11-6) scored three goals in a 2:13 span of the second period and held on for a 3-2 victory over Vancouver on Monday. Joe Thornton had a goal and an assist for the Sharks, who are thriving amid trade rumors surrounding forward Ryane Clowe with Wednesday's deadline looming. "They're smart people in the locker room, they sense what's going on with Clowey's situation," coach Todd McLellan said. "It didn't just pop out of thin air today, it's been there and it's been around the club for a little while. Clowey's a San Jose Shark right now and he may play a lot of games for us yet." Clowe was a healthy scratch Monday, suggesting a deal is looming, but San Jose hardly seemed distracted. The club has given up seven goals during the win streak after allowing 35 during a 2-5-2 stretch that preceded it. The Sharks have risen to sixth in the West, one point ahead of Detroit and within reach of the fourth spot. "We're trying to catch some teams now,'' said Thornton, who has points in three straight games. ''Winning feels pretty good. It's contagious and as long as we put a good effort, we feel like we can win every night.'' Minnesota (21-12-2) did just that for nearly two weeks, winning seven in a row, though it's now dropped two of three after a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on Monday. The Wild managed only 12 shots through the first two periods before outshooting the Blues 13-2 over the final 20 minutes, but they weren't able to score in the third. Minnesota had totaled 38 goals in its previous nine games. ''It just kind of levels us back down to earth a little bit,'' said forward Devin Setoguchi, who had recorded seven goals and four assists in 10 games before being held off the scoresheet Monday. ''We were getting away from the things that made us successful during our streak. When you try to cheat and take shortcuts and aren't hard on pucks, and get pucks in and out, that's when they start going in on you. A couple turnovers and a couple goals for them.'' San Jose's victory Monday helped the Wild, as it kept them tied with the Canucks atop the Northwest Division. Now they'll try to get back on track at home after having a four-game win streak there snapped, while trying to extend their run in the series with the Sharks. Minnesota pushed that streak to four with a 2-0 victory March 23 behind 33 saves from Niklas Backstrom, though the last three meetings have come at St. Paul. The Wild broke a three-game skid at HP Pavilion with a 2-1 win Dec. 6, 2011. Zach Parise has recorded three goals and five assists in a six-game point streak against San Jose. San Jose's Antti Niemi has won four straight starts with 0.98 goals-against average, but Backstrom hasn't been nearly as effective lately, posting a 3.40 GAA in his past four games despite a 3-1-0 record. He's won his previous two against the Sharks. Minnesota will be without center Matt Cullen for at least two games because of an unspecified lower-body injury. He was hurt against the Blues.