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Sharks visit Coyotes for key battle out West

Thu 29th, March 2012

(Sports Network) - A crucial Western Conference matchup is on tap tonight in the desert, as the San Jose Sharks visit the Phoenix Coyotes for a divisional battle at Jobing.com Arena.

With five games left in the regular season for both teams, the Sharks and Coyotes are in the middle of a heated race for both the Pacific Division title and a spot in the playoffs.

San Jose is currently tied with Los Angeles for the Western Conference's final postseason berths and the clubs are just one point behind Dallas for first place in the division. Phoenix, meanwhile, is one point in back of the Sharks and Kings in the conference and division standings. San Jose, Dallas and the Kings also have five games left in the regular season, but all three are off tonight.

The Sharks entered Wednesday leading the Pacific by one point over Dallas, but they missed an opportunity to keep that position, as San Jose was dealt a 3-1 setback in Anaheim and the Stars won by the same score in Edmonton.

Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry each had a goal for the Ducks in last night's win over the Sharks. Ryane Clowe had the lone goal for San Jose and Antti Niemi stopped 25-of-27 shots in the setback.

"This is disappointing, but we've still got chances," said San Jose forward Joe Pavelski. "Five still coming up and we've got to win."

After tonight's tilt, the Shark will close the season with consecutive home- and-home series against Dallas and Los Angeles. San Jose will host the Stars on Saturday to kick off that stretch and will then visit Dallas on Tuesday.

San Jose is 24-12-3 as the host this year and 15-16-7 on the road.

Phoenix has won three of five meetings with the Sharks this season and tonight's matchup is the finale of the season series. San Jose has taken 11 of 15 overall from the Coyotes, but the Sharks have dropped three straight at Jobing.com Arena.

The Coyotes have stumbled down the stretch, going just 4-6-4 this month after a spectacular 11-0-1 showing in February.

Phoenix was held pointless, and goalless, in its last contest, dropping Sunday's 4-0 decision to the visiting St. Louis Blues. Jason LaBarbera gave up all four goals on 29 shots for the Coyotes, who have dropped three of their last four.

"We just didn't put out a really good effort tonight. That was really unacceptable," said Coyotes forward Gilbert Brule.

Phoenix hopes to get a boost tonight from the return of captain Shane Doan, who was forced to sit out the previous three games due to a suspension. Doan, who is third on the team in scoring with 47 points, was banned for delivering an elbow to the head of Dallas forward Jamie Benn on March 20.

Coyotes forwards Taylor Pyatt and Radim Vrbata are questionable for tonight's game along with defenseman Adrian Aucoin. Vrbata and Aucoin are suffering from lower-body injuries, while Pyatt has an upper-body issue.

Phoenix is playing the second test of a four-game homestand tonight and is 19-13-6 as the host this season. The Coyotes will close the residency with tests against Anaheim and Columbus before capping the regular season with consecutive road tilts.

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