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The three finalists for the Vezina Trophy won't be named for another four months. The seasons Evgeni Nabokov and Roberto Luongo are having makes them two of the leading candidates for that award.
Two of the league's best goaltenders will be on display Thursday night at HP Pavilion as Nabokov and the Sharks look to make it four wins in as many games this season against the Canucks.
Vancouver (24-14-4) and San Jose (23-12-6) have been at or near the top of their respective divisions most of this season, and outstanding goaltending has been the biggest reason for that success.
Luongo was named a finalist for the Vezina last season, losing out to New Jersey's Martin Brodeur. Nabokov, meanwhile, has never been a finalist during an eight-year career, but did finish fourth following his 2000-01 rookie season.
Both goalies are either leading or near the top in most statistical categories. Nabokov tops the NHL in wins (23), ranks fourth in goals-against average (2.01) and is fourth in shutouts (5). Luongo is fourth in wins (20), second in GAA (1.96) and tied for second in shutouts (6).
The two are also among the NHL's busiest netminders. Nabokov is the only goalie to start all of his team's games this season while Luongo has started 35 of Vancouver's 42 contests, missing five games in December with a bruised rib.
Nabokov and the Sharks have gotten the better of the Canucks this season, winning all three meetings by a combined 12-5 score. Nabokov is 3-0-0 with a 1.68 GAA in those games while Luongo is 0-2-0 with a 3.56 GAA versus San Jose.
Nabokov needed to make only 21 saves and Patrick Rissmiller had the first two-goal game of his career as the Sharks stayed hot with a 3-2 victory Saturday over Columbus.
The Sharks improved to 5-0-1 in their last six games and ended an 0-3-2 home skid. Although it is among the league's best teams, San Jose has a league-low seven home wins.
"There's a sense in this locker room that we were going to get the job done finally," center Joe Pavelski said. "We wanted to give our fans something, because they've been pretty supportive of us throughout this whole thing."
The Sharks posted their second consecutive victory despite no production from top center Joe Thornton, who has been held without a point in back-to-back games for only the fourth time this season. Thornton hasn't gone more than two straight contests without a point since a four-game drought from Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2006.
"We need pressure from other lines," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "They take all the heat that Joe has had on his shoulders, so on nights that a team can shut him down, we have as good a chance of winning."
Luongo allowed two soft goals Tuesday, but came up big in a shootout to lift the Canucks to a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
Defenseman Alex Edler scored in the sixth round after Markus Naslund and Daniel Sedin had regulation goals.
"It was really important to help him out on a tough night," Edler said. "He's done the same for us so often this year. He's played so well for us all year."
With their fourth win in five games, the Canucks moved past Calgary into sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division.
Sedin has goals in a career-best five straight games and eight total in his last eight contests.