Wild-Sharks Preview

The Minnesota Wild have strung together three straight wins to

pull within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the

Western Conference standings. So have the San Jose Sharks.

The Wild and Sharks each try to match a season high with their

fourth straight victory on Saturday night when they meet at HP


Since finding the back of the net just twice during a three-game

losing streak from Jan. 9-14, Minnesota (24-18-5) has outscored its

opponents 14-1 while winning its last three.

The Wild improved to 2-0-0 on their four-game trip and won for

the ninth time in 12 games away from home with Wednesday’s 6-0

victory over Calgary.

Minnesota moved within one point of eighth-place Colorado and

Chicago in the West.

“It’s a tight race,” right wing Chuck Kobasew said after

scoring a goal and setting up another. “Every win helps, but at the

end of the night you look at the standings and most teams are

winning. You’ve got to do that on a consistent basis and hopefully

we can continue that.”

The Sharks (24-19-5) feel the same way after winning their third

in a row on Thursday, 2-1 in a shootout at West-leading Vancouver.

San Jose had dropped a season-high six straight prior to its

current run.

“We’ve just got to get points. That’s the bottom line,” said

captain Joe Thornton, who had his three-game goal scoring streak

snapped to remain two shy of 300. “We’ve got to get back in this


San Jose, though, will have to start playing better at home for

that to happen. After losing just six times in regulation at HP

Pavilion last season, the Sharks snapped a six-game skid on home

ice last Saturday with a 4-2 win over St. Louis.

San Jose is 6-0-1 against the visiting Wild since a 4-1 loss

Oct. 21, 2006, but Minnesota has won both matchups this season.

Niklas Backstrom stopped 36 shots and earned his 20th career

shutout with a 1-0 victory over the Sharks on Nov. 2 before making

29 saves in a 5-3 win on Dec. 29.

The Wild’s veteran netminder returned Wednesday following a

nine-game absence with a hip injury and turned away 37 shots.

“Nik did great job,” coach Todd Richards said. “He was big, he

was in control. When there were rebounds we fought hard in front of


Backstrom is 1-3-1 with a 3.32 goals-against average in five

starts in San Jose.

With Sharks starter Antero Niittymaki placed on injured reserve

after suffering a groin injury during Thursday’s morning skate,

Antii Niemi will likely log the majority of minutes the next

several games.

Niemi had 36 saves through overtime and stopped all three

chances in Thursday’s tiebreaker.

“Nemo stole the show,” said center Joe Pavelski, who scored the

lone shootout goal. “They had some good looks.”

Pavelski is hoping to get some of his own after going 13

straight games since his last regulation score Dec. 8. He has

missed eight games since then with a lower-body injury.

“Even strength, during the games, goals have been tough to come

by,” he said. “If it hasn’t happened for you, which obviously it

hasn’t, you have to step up in other ways. It’s a big two


Pavelski has four goals in his last six games versus Minnesota,

including the go-ahead score in the teams’ last matchup at HP

Pavilion, a 5-2 Sharks victory Jan. 30.