Bolts look to get back on track against Sharks

Tune into Sun Sports at 7 p.m. to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the San Jose Sharks. NHL Lightning territory.

The San Jose Sharks are hoping some improved play on the road provides a clear path to their fifth consecutive Pacific Division title.

Winning at home hasn’t come easily for the Tampa Bay Lightning lately.

San Jose continues its nine-game road trip Thursday night against struggling Tampa Bay, which has lost six of the last seven meetings.

The Sharks (31-17-6) have a three-point lead over second-place Los Angeles with three games in hand, though they had gone 1-4-1 in their previous six road games prior to beating Washington 5-3 on Monday.

“We challenged our guys. We said it’s up to them,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They can choose to be on their heels or they can get on their toes and get after them. I’m glad they chose the second.”

They began their lengthy trip with a 3-0 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, and will play two more sets of games on back-to-back days before it ends Feb. 26 in Minnesota.

Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau each scored twice Monday and Joe Thornton added three assists for the Sharks, who led by four midway through the third period.

Pavelski, who also had two assists, scored in San Jose’s 7-2 home win over Tampa Bay on Dec. 21 to help the Sharks continue their dominance in the series dating back to 2006.

They have outscored the Lightning 31-13 over the last seven meetings, and they put Tampa Bay away early in the last one with five first-period goals – two from Logan Couture.

The Lightning (24-26-6) haven’t been much better of late, going 2-3-2 since a five-game winning streak and falling 4-0 to visiting Ottawa on Tuesday.

Mathieu Garon stopped 23 of 26 shots for Tampa Bay, which was shut out for the first time since a 3-0 loss at St. Louis on Nov. 12 – and the first time at home all season.

“They played hard and we played hard, the shots are equal, and they were able to put it in and we didn’t,” coach Guy Boucher said.

The Lightning have been outscored 7-1 in losing their last two home games and have gone 1-2-1 in their last four at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

“To tell you why, it’s a mix,” Boucher added. “It’s a mix of the goaltender playing really good against us, and us missing our golden opportunities.”

Tampa Bay should hope to stay out of the penalty box against San Jose, which has scored a power-play goal in eight of its last 10 games and ranks among the NHL leaders converting 21.0 percent of its chances with the man advantage.

The Sharks scored three times on the power play Monday and are 11 for 27 (40.7 percent) since the All-Star break – by far the best in the league during that span.

The Lightning rank 24th on the penalty kill and have allowed a power-play goal in three of their last four contests. They also rank 29th with the man advantage, converting only 13.3 percent of their chances.

Thornton has three goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak against Tampa Bay.

Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s leader with 37 goals, has four goals and an assist in five career games versus San Jose.