The San Jose Sharks have qualified for seven consecutive postseasons and eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in each of the last two en route to the Western Conference finals.
The Sharks have some work to do if they want to add to that playoff streak, and they’ll try to help themselves Saturday night by taking advantage of the short-handed Red Wings’ struggles on the road.
Having finished with at least 99 points in each of the past seven seasons, San Jose usually hasn’t needed to stress about getting into the playoffs. The Sharks’ struggles for consistency this season, though, have them currently outside the playoff picture.
San Jose (35-25-10) might be making a push at the right time, collecting five points in the past three games after picking up six over the previous 12.
The Sharks snapped a season-high, three-game home losing streak with a 2-1 shootout victory over Nashville on Thursday.
Antti Niemi stopped 32 shots and all three Predators’ attempts in the tiebreaker while helping his team win for the first time in four shootouts. Joe Thornton scored San Jose’s lone goal in regulation, giving him eight points in the last five games.
“We’re going to see close games like that,” Thornton said. “We’ve been comfortable in those but haven’t been winning in the shootout. Tonight, we won in the shootout. Hopefully, we’ll get some confidence out of that.”
San Jose also got Martin Havlat back on the ice. The veteran winger tore his left hamstring while jumping over the bench during a win over Edmonton on Dec. 17.
Detroit (44-24-3) has been hampered by many injuries, with top scorer Pavel Datsyuk and captain Nicklas Lidstrom among those out of the lineup. Backup goaltender Joey MacDonald developed back spasms following Wednesday’s 4-0 defeat in Anaheim, and Jordan Pearce was recalled from Grand Rapids on Friday.
It appears Datsyuk may return after missing the past 11 games following knee surgery. Lidstrom remains out with a bruised ankle, and it’s possible leading goal scorer Johan Franzen won’t play after leaving Friday’s practice with back pain.
After top goaltender Jimmy Howard returned the previous night, Todd Bertuzzi came back from a groin injury Wednesday, but the Red Wings suffered a third straight loss and fifth in six games. They failed to score in three power-play chances and are 0 for 28 this month.
“The reality right now is that as a group we’re not working hard enough, we’re not playing with good enough structure, and therefore we don’t look very skilled,” coach Mike Babcock told the team’s website. “We have to have a look in the mirror and get it fixed. You go through adversity every year and we’re getting our share right now.”
The Red Wings have lost four consecutive road games – one shy of a season high – and are 1-6-1 in their last eight away from home heading into the finale of a four-game trip.
Including the postseason, Detroit has dropped eight of 10 in San Jose. The Red Wings lost 5-2 in their only visit this season Nov. 17 but managed to snap a five-game, regular-season skid to the Sharks with a 3-2 win Feb. 19.
MacDonald was in net for that game, but Howard is expected to start this one. The All-Star has lost his last four regular-season starts against San Jose with a 4.42 goals-against average.
Niemi is 7-2-1 with a 2.09 GAA in 10 career regular-season matchups and had a 2.36 GAA in last year’s seven-game victory in the conference semifinals.
Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.