|SJS||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||1|
|VAN||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||3|
It's been more than a year since the San Jose Sharks last lost four consecutive games, but the way the Vancouver Canucks are playing, it may not be easy for the NHL co-leaders to avoid such a fate.
Then again, it has also been difficult for Vancouver to beat the Sharks lately.
The surging Canucks will be looking for their fourth straight win Saturday night, but the visiting Sharks hope an eighth straight victory over Vancouver will help them snap out of their swoon.
The Sharks (42-11-10) have been perhaps the NHL's most consistent team all season, but their once-prolific offense has hit a snag lately, totaling 10 goals in the last six games, with San Jose dropping four of its last five.
The team's defense has also faltered at times. Despite holding a 3-0 lead late in the second period on Thursday night against Minnesota, the Sharks' 4-3 overtime loss was their third straight defeat as they fell to 6-5-5 since Jan. 31.
"We played very well for the first 38 minutes," said San Jose coach Todd McLellan, whose team has dropped into a tie with Detroit for the top seed in the West - and the NHL's top spot.
"I thought that's as well as we've played in a long time," the coach added. "We executed, and then we let them back in the game, and right now we're a little bit of a fragile team."
They haven't lost four in a row since a five-game skid last February, and the absence of their stalwart goaltender likely won't help. Evgeni Nabokov, a Vezina trophy finalist last season, has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury.
Backup Brian Boucher has a 2.07 goals-against average this season, but he's lost three straight starts, giving up 11 goals over that span. The ugliest happened in the third period against the Wild, as Marek Zidlicky's backhand dump-in from center ice slipped past Boucher to tie the game.
The Canucks (33-22-8) have had no such problems lately, with Roberto Luongo going 11-1-0 with a 2.31 GAA since the beginning of February, helping his team move into fifth place in the West.
With a four-point lead on a cluster of West teams fighting for the final three playoff spots, Vancouver is trying to create a cushion for itself in the standings - and taking two points against the Wild on Tuesday night certainly didn't hurt.
Undeterred by an early 2-0 deficit, the Canucks outshot Minnesota 16-4 in the second period en route to a 4-2 win, earning their third straight victory.
"If you want to win in the playoffs you have to have the four lines do something good on the ice," Vancouver right wing Steve Bernier said. "You don't need to score, but you need to create momentum for the team. ... I think that's what we did in the second period."
Alex Burrows scored two goals for Vancouver just hours after signing a four-year, $8 million contract extension.
But it could be tougher for the Canucks against San Jose, which has outscored Vancouver 26-9 during its seven-game winning streak in the series. The Canucks have earned just one point over that span, losing 2-1 in overtime in San Jose on Jan. 20.
With a victory Saturday, the Sharks would take eight points from four games against Vancouver for the second straight season.
Both Travis Moen and Kent Huskins are expected to make their debuts for San Jose after the team acquired them from Anaheim before Wednesday's trade deadline.
|Mar 07 '09||SJS 1 at VAN 3||M. Sundin|
|Jan 20 '09||VAN 1 at SJS 2 - OT||P. Marleau|
|Jan 10 '09||SJS 4 at VAN 2||P. Marleau|
|Dec 23 '08||VAN 0 at SJS 5||R. Blake|