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Thu, Feb 23, 2012 - 7:00 PM ET
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The San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs are battling for playoff position in their respective conferences, though they haven't made things easy on themselves lately.

San Jose looks to avoid a five-game losing streak Thursday night when it visits Toronto, which has dropped six of seven.

The Sharks have lost nine of 11 on the road and fell to 1-4-1 on their nine-game trip with a 6-3 loss to Columbus on Tuesday.

"The disappointing thing for me is the lack of urgency that we entered the game with," coach Todd McLellan said after his team was outscored 4-0 in the first period.

San Jose (31-20-7) slipped into a tie with Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead after the surging Coyotes beat Los Angeles later that night. Less than three weeks ago, the Sharks had a four-point division lead and were 14 ahead of Phoenix.

Even with a red-hot Logan Couture, who has nine goals and 10 assists in his last 14 games after scoring twice Tuesday, the Sharks have lost a season-high four straight and seven of nine. They're only four points ahead of ninth-place Calgary in the West.

"Right now we should be a desperate team," McLellan said. "That's very concerning."

The same goes for the slumping Maple Leafs (29-24-7), who are tied for the East's final playoff spot.

Toronto, which hasn't qualified for the postseason in eight years, is 1-5-1 in its last seven after a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey on Tuesday.

Phil Kessel matched his career high of 64 points with his team-leading 31st goal to tie the game with 44 seconds left in regulation, but goaltender Jonas Gustavsson misplayed a shot that went into the net 1:18 into the extra session.

"As a group we've got to take it as a real big positive to get that point," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "It's not the way we wanted it to end, but to get that point at that point of the game, it's huge.

"We're going to take the point and move forward."

Both the Leafs and Sharks likely will need to improve defensively to bust out of their slumps.

Toronto is allowing 4.1 goals per game over its last seven, and Gustavsson fell to 0-2-2 with a 3.68 goals-against average in his last six outings. He entered in relief in two of those games for James Reimer, who is 1-3-0 with a 4.72 GAA in his last four starts.

San Jose hasn't been much better, allowing an average of 4.0 goals over its last nine and giving up at least three in all of those games.

Antti Niemi was pulled Tuesday after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first 15:18, and Thomas Greiss allowed three more the rest of the way. It is unclear who will start this matchup, though Niemi is 1-4-1 with a 4.02 GAA in his last seven starts.

Reimer defeated Niemi as Toronto ended a six-game winless streak against the Sharks with a 4-2 road victory Jan. 11, 2011.

San Jose is 2-0-0 with one tie in the last three meetings in Toronto.

Tagged: Sharks, Maple Leafs, Antti Niemi

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