The San Jose Sharks have the best home record in the league, making their fight for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs even more important.
Simply qualifying for the postseason would be an accomplishment for the Columbus Blue Jackets, though they haven't had much success in their trips to HP Pavilion.
San Jose looks to boost its chances for the conference's fourth seed while putting a damper on Columbus' playoff hopes when these teams meet Sunday night.
The Sharks (24-13-7) are an NHL-best 16-1-5 at home, with their only regulation loss coming to West-leading Chicago on Feb. 5. They've earned two points in nine of their last 10 home games after beating Minnesota 6-1 on Thursday.
San Jose, just 8-12-2 on the road, is tied with Los Angeles for the fourth seed in the West and the accompanying home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"I think we're going in the right direction now," said forward Logan Couture, who had two goals and two assists Thursday. "You always want to be playing well going into the playoffs."
Martin Havlat scored twice and added an assist for the Sharks, who are 11-2-1 in their last 14 overall.
"We all feel comfortable," captain Joe Thornton said. "We all like where our game is. We can still improve in some things and we still got some games in the regular season to win. But, yeah, we keep getting better. It's a perfect time for that."
One of the defeats during San Jose's hot stretch came April 9 at Columbus. Marian Gaborik had a goal and an assist and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 shots to lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-0 win.
Columbus has hosted the last three meetings with the Sharks, outscoring them 16-5 while winning each one. San Jose, though, is 19-1-2 all-time at home versus the Blue Jackets, winning the last two by a combined 8-1 score.
Columbus (21-17-7) had a five-game winning snapped with Thursday's 2-1 defeat at Los Angeles, its first loss in four stops on its six-game road trip. Despite the defeat, the Blue Jackets are locked in a tight battle with Detroit and Dallas for the West's final playoff berth.
The franchise's only postseason appearance came in 2008-09.
"We were just a little bit lacking on the execution (Thursday)," said defenseman Dalton Prout, who scored his first NHL goal. "We're going to leave it all on the table in these last three games."
The Blue Jackets, though, will have to overcome the loss of winger Matt Calvert, who suffered a broken finger while taking a shot to the hand in the third period Thursday. Coach Todd Richards said Calvert, who has nine goals and seven assists, will be out "for a while."
"It's a big blow losing him," Richards said.
Columbus still has Bobrovsky, who has emerged as a surprising Vezina Trophy candidate while posting a 2.03 goals-against average that ranks among the league's best. He's 5-1-0 with a 1.62 GAA over a six-game stretch that began with the latest win over San Jose.
Antti Niemi was pulled in the most recent meeting with Columbus after giving up four goals on 26 shots through two-plus periods. Niemi, 4-1-0 with a 1.36 GAA since that contest, is 4-2-0 with a 3.07 GAA in his career versus the Blue Jackets.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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