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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Tuesday, March 23rd (All times eastern)

San Jose Sharks (43-19-10) at Minnesota Wild (35-31-6), 8 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The San Jose Sharks enter tonight's road clash with the Minnesota Wild in a position unfamiliar to the team for virtually all of this season -- that of a second-place club.

San Jose has spent just about all of this 2009-10 campaign atop the Pacific Division as well as the Western Conference, but its once-comfortable lead has vanished due to an 0-5-1 stretch that began with a home overtime loss to Florida on March 13. The Sharks were then dealt five consecutive regulation losses on a disastrous road trip which concludes with this evening's matchup.

In contrast, Phoenix has ripped off nine straight victories and now holds a one-point edge on San Jose for the Pacific's top spot. The Sharks enter Tuesday's play in the No. 4 spot in the West and trail both the Coyotes and co-conference leader Chicago in points.

Poor starts have plagued the Sharks all throughout this trek, as the team has given up the first two goals in all five contests on this trip. That was the case once again on Sunday, when San Jose hit rock-bottom with a startling 5-1 defeat to the NHL basement-dwelling Edmonton Oilers.

Robert Nilsson and Dustin Penner scored 1:13 apart in the first period to stake Edmonton to an early advantage, and goaltender Devan Dubnyk made the lead stick by stopping 27-of-28 shots faced.

Ryane Clowe spoiled Dubnyk's shutout bid with only 3:02 remaining in regulation to account for San Jose's lone score. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov struggled between the pipes, saving just 20-of-25 chances on the night.

"Right now I think we're more concerned with not where we finish, but the way we're playing," said San Jose center Joe Thornton. "We're going through a tough time now, but it might be better for the team to go through it now and get it out of the way before the (playoffs)."

The Sharks are still a good bet to reach the postseason despite their current slide, the team's longest since an 0-7-3 stretch from November 5-30, 2005. Minnesota, on the other hand, is facing an uphill climb to make the playoffs, as the Wild are presently tied for 11th in the West and trail eighth-seeded Detroit by nine points with only 10 games remaining on the schedule.

Minnesota has helped its cause by winning four of its past six contests, including Sunday's 4-3 verdict over Calgary at the Xcel Energy Center. Chuck Kobasew led the way with a pair of goals, with Andrew Brunette and Guillaume Latendresse also lighting the lamp in the important victory.

Wild netminder Josh Harding did his part as well by making 29 saves, including two on Flames sniper Jarome Iginla from in close in the final minute.

"Harding made all the saves he needed to make to keep us in the game and hold them at bay," said Minnesota defenseman Greg Zanon.

Harding has started the Wild's last seven games with regular backstop Nicklas Backstrom sidelined by a groin injury. Backstrom was able to serve in a backup capacity on Sunday, however, and could be back in the lineup for tonight's showdown.

Backstrom wasn't overly sharp in a 4-2 loss to the Sharks in San Jose on October 10, though, allowing all four goals on 29 shots. Harding wasn't any better in a January 30 defeat at the Shark Tank, saving 31-of-36 chances in the Wild's 5-2 setback.

That win was San Jose's 11th in its last 13 overall meetings with Minnesota, and the Sharks have emerged triumphant in six of their past seven stops in St. Paul.

03/23 10:52:35 ET

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