Sharks seek to regain first as they battle Blue Jackets
BLUE JACKETS (25-28-11) at SHARKS (41-14-9)
Columbus 5-3-2; San Jose 6-4-0
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Sharks prevailed in the first two -- Dany Heatley
recorded the hat trick in a 6-3 win on Oct. 8 while Dan Boyle
's shootout goal proved decisive in a 3-2 triumph on Nov. 4 -- and the Blue Jackets captured the most recent matchup, 3-0 on Feb. 10, as Steve Mason stopped all 40 shots he faced.
It's a two-team race for the top spot in the Western Conference. Chicago beat Vancouver on Friday night to tie San Jose with 91 points, but the Blackhawks currently hold the tiebreaker by virtue of two more victories. With a win Saturday, the Sharks can regain sole possession of the No. 1 seed.
This will be the first game for Columbus since forwards Raffi Torres and Fredrik Modin were moved prior to the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets received defenseman Nathan Paetsch and a second-round pick from the Sabres for Torres, and a conditional seventh-round pick from the Kings for Modin. They last played on Tuesday, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Canucks.
"You lose friends when the business side takes over," captain Rick Nash told the Columbus Dispatch. "It was tough to lose (Modin) because he has helped me with a lot of things with leadership and Raffi was a good friend and a big part of the team. But you got to look at the long haul and the future with those moves."
One major focus San Jose might have Saturday would be getting off to a better start. The Sharks dug themselves a four-goal hole against the Devils on Tuesday before nearly rallying in a 4-3 defeat. They trailed again going into the third period against the Canadiens on Thursday, but got goals from Heatley and Manny Malhotra to record a 3-2 victory.
"It was an Eastern Conference team so you don't really expect that," Boyle said. "They're fighting for their playoff lives and we're fighting to get our game back on track. It was a chippy game out there. Sometimes it's good for the team to rally around that and get together. It was a very weird game, a lot of weird things happened out there but we stuck together and won the game."
Columbus defenseman Grant Clitsome, a ninth-round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft, made his NHL debut Tuesday with a two-assist performance. … Patrick Marleau
scored shorthanded and helped set up Heatley's game-tying goal in San Jose's win over Montreal.
The Blue Jackets activated defenseman Mike Commodore from injured reserve Thursday, but remain without fellow blueliner Rostislav Klesla (groin) and forward Derick Brassard (hand).
Sharks forward Scott Nichol
is expected to miss 7-10 days with a shoulder injury after a hit from Maxim Lapierre that led to a four-game suspension for the Canadiens forward. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
is on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Columbus has lost nine games this season when leading after two periods after letting a 3-2 lead slip away to Vancouver. … Marleau is one goal shy of joining Jonathan Cheechoo and Owen Nolan as the only San Jose players to score 40 in a season. Nolan originally set the team mark with 44 in 1999-00, while Cheechoo surpassed it with 56 in the 2005-06 season.
This won't be an easy one for the Blue Jackets, who are 1-14-2 at the Shark Tank, the worst winning percentage since 2000 for a road team against a single opponent having played at least 10 games.