Season Series: This is the sixth and final meeting between these Pacific Division rivals, who are also wrapping up a home-and-home. San Jose shut out Dallas 3-0 Saturday to improve to 4-0-1 against the Stars this season, with its only loss coming in a shootout on the road. The Sharks have won the three games at HP Pavilion by a combined score of 13-4. San Jose captain Joe Thornton leads players from both teams with 11 points (one goal, 10 assists) in the season series.
Big Story: The winner of this game is assured a spot in the top eight of the Western Conference by the end of the night. The loser will be on the outside looking in with just two games left. Such is life these days for the four teams from the Pacific -- plus Colorado -- that are aiming for just three vacant postseason spots in the West. San Jose has a slim one-point lead over Dallas for eighth place, but the Stars own the tiebreaker with three more regulation/overtime victories.
And while simply qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the main objective, both clubs still have a chance to finish as the third seed by virtue of winning the division.
Sharks: The hockey gods have scheduled the Sharks to finish the regular season with a pair of home-and-home series against Dallas and Los Angeles. The opening contest of this critical stretch went to the Sharks on Saturday, as Joe Pavelski scored the first of his two goals 58 seconds into the game to pave the way for the 3-0 win. Defenseman Jason Demers added a power-play tally late in the first period and Antti Niemi -- playing in his 18th consecutive game -- stopped 22 shots to record his sixth shutout of the season.
"It was the biggest game of the year for us," said Thornton, who assisted on both of Pavelski’s goals. "We started well, and I thought we competed hard all the way through. We knew they played last night in Vancouver. It's important to start quick, start early, get our legs moving, and we did and had a good first period."
San Jose had only managed one goal in losing its two previous games, and -- despite the win -- a couple of its biggest stars remain in slumps. Logan Couture has matched a career-long drought of 10 games without a goal and Patrick Marleau has scored just twice in the past 19 games.
Stars: The Stars went from leading the Pacific division heading into a 5-2 loss Friday at Vancouver to being out of the playoff picture after getting shut out Saturday at San Jose.
"Our backs are against the wall," captain Brenden Morrow said after the game. "It was kind of a must win. It's probably three wins or nothing for us now. It is nice to get them again so soon. But if we do what we did tonight, we're not going to get the result we want."
The back-to-back defeats ended a brutal 1-3-0 road trip for Dallas, who will square off with Nashville and St. Louis -- two of best two teams in the West -- to finish the regular season.
"It's got to be the mindset of do or die," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We still control our own destiny. We don't need anyone else to beat anyone else. We have to win three games and that's it. On Tuesday, we have to bring everything."
Who's Hot: Niemi has allowed just nine goals in his last six starts and is 5-0-1 in his previous six outings against Dallas. Pavelski, who leads the Sharks with 31 goals, has had a pair of two-goal nights over his last four games.
Injury Report: San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray (ankle) has missed the last two games, but practiced with the team Monday before the flight to Dallas and will most likely be a game-time decision. … Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric returned to the lineup Saturday after missing five games because of an abdominal strain. Radek Dvorak (sprained ankle), Eric Nystrom (lacerated leg), Philip Larsen (illness) and Tom Wandell (illness) are all questionable.
Stat Pack: While the Sharks have had great success against Dallas this season, they have just five wins in 16 games against the rest of the division, a major reason why they are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. … The Stars are the only team in the NHL that have four players with at least 60 points: Loui Eriksson (70), Jamie Benn (62), Mike Ribeiro (62) and Michael Ryder (62). … It has been feast or famine lately for Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen, who allowed three goals on 34 shots Saturday. Over his last five games, he has allowed just one goal in each of his two wins while surrendering 12 goals over three losses.
Puck Drop: One thing the Stars might have going for them heading into this crucial matchup is how poorly San Jose has played on the road the last couple of months. The Sharks have lost 17 of their past 21 road games, including eight of the last nine. They have scored just 16 goals in those nine games and haven't even held a lead in their last three road matchups, going 218 minutes, 34 seconds since their last road lead in Calgary on March 13.