(AP) — A winning stretch nearly a month long has helped the San Jose Sharks move into position to lead the Pacific Division.
Even with its own month-long run of success, the New Jersey Devils have plenty of ground to make up in order to get back in the playoff race.
Two of the NHL’s hottest teams square off Friday night when the Sharks visit the Devils at the Prudential Center.
It was not long ago that San Jose (30-19-6) was 10 points behind Dallas in the Pacific. However, the Sharks have followed a six-game skid with a 9-0-1 stretch that has them sharing the lead with the Stars.
San Jose, which has not allowed more three goals in 10 straight contests, will try to win six in a row for the first time since an eight-game run from Dec. 17, 2009-Jan. 2, 2010.
Patrick Marleau scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period as the Sharks overcame a two-goal deficit to win 3-2 at Columbus on Wednesday in the fourth stop on a seven-game trip.
“Beggars can’t be choosers and we’ll take it,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “(There are) some areas that we are not happy with, but we will see what we can do and move on.”
Though Wednesday’s slow start might be a concern, McLellan should be thrilled by the recent play of Antti Niemi.
The second-year netminder has won four in a row and owns a 1.86 goals-against average during his 8-0-1 stretch. He’s allowed two goals on 95 shots over the last three games.
Niemi made 32 saves in a 2-1 shootout win on April 2 in his only appearance versus New Jersey while with Chicago.
Marleau, who snapped a three-game stretch without a point Wednesday, had a goal with three assists in a 5-2 home victory over the Devils on Oct. 27. Linemate Joe Thornton recorded his fourth career hat trick and matched a career high with five points in that contest.
Though San Jose got the best of the Devils (21-30-4) earlier this season, it’s 0-3-1 at New Jersey since November 2000.
The Sharks also will try to cool down a New Jersey club that’s 11-1-2 after winning just 10 games through the first three months of the season. Still, the Devils are 13th in the Eastern Conference and 13 points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot with 27 games remaining.
“I know we can play better than we are right now,” said coach Jacques Lemaire, who became the eighth coach in NHL history to reach 600 wins after Thursday’s 2-1 overtime victory at Toronto.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the winner after Dainius Zubrus netted his 11th for the Devils, who won their third in a row overall and 10th straight when allowing fewer than three goals.
Kovalchuk has four goals and three assists his last six games. He was held without a point against the Sharks in October.
Martin Brodeur stopped 34 shots for the Devils in that contest and has a 1.92 GAA while winning eight of 10 overall, but is day-to-day with a sprained right knee. The future Hall of Famer has a 1.63 GAA during a three-game home winning streak against San Jose.
Backup Johan Hedberg is 0-3-0 with a 6.20 GAA in four career games versus the Sharks.
Updated February 11, 2011
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