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BIG NHL Prediction: Nashville Predators vs San Jose Sharks (3/15/12)

With only one road game over the next two weeks, the San Jose Sharks would seem to have a decent chance of separating themselves from the throng of teams fighting for the last few playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Securing points at HP Pavilion this month, however, hasn’t been easy.

The sputtering Sharks try to avoid extending their longest home losing streak of the season to four games Thursday night against the rolling Nashville Predators.

The Predators (41-21-7) appear to be in good position to earn a third straight playoff berth, sitting fifth in the West with 89 points and five ahead of sixth-place Chicago.

San Jose (34-25-10) also looked like it would be playing for the Stanley Cup a month ago, but it is 3-8-4 since Feb. 16 and its playoff chances are in jeopardy. The Sharks concluded a four-game road trip Tuesday with a 3-2 overtime defeat to Calgary, their sixth loss in seven games (1-3-3).

Logan Couture scored his team leading 29th and 30th goals Tuesday after notching the game winner in Monday’s 3-2 victory over Edmonton. He had gone without a goal in his previous seven games, his longest drought of the season.

San Jose, which has 78 points, now opens a three game homestand and plays six of its next seven at HP Pavilion. The Sharks have lost all three games at home this month, however, after going 7-2-0 in San Jose during January and February.

They’ve been held to four goals in their last four home games while going scoreless on the power play. San Jose, though, went a combined 3 for 7 on the power play in its final two games of the road trip after failing to score in its previous 14 chances.

It could be difficult, though, for the Sharks to have power play success against a Nashville team that has killed 92.6 percent of its short-handed situations (25 of 27) in the last 12 games.

The Predators opened a four game trip against Pacific Division teams Monday with a 5-4 shootout victory over Phoenix, their third straight win. Andrei Kostitsyn scored the only goal in the tiebreaker for Nashville, which squandered a 4-2 third period lead.

Rinne has started the last five games and is 8-1-1 with a 2.23 goals against average since Feb. 19. That stretch includes stopping 32 shots in a 6-2 home win over San Jose on Feb. 25. He has been in net for all three games against the Sharks this season, going 2-1-0 with a 2.32 GAA.

San Jose’s Antti Niemi had a short night in the last meeting, getting pulled at 15:58 of the first period when Kevin Klein’s goal put the Predators up 3-1. Shea Weber had a pair of goals in that game, while Martin Erat and Colin Wilson each had a goal and an assist.

Erat, Nashville’s leader with 35 assists and 52 points, has three goals and three assists in five games this month.

Joe Pavelski is third on the Sharks with 24 goals but has only two in the last 15 games. He has four goals and two assists against the Predators this season.

STARTING GOALIES:

Nashville Predators – Pekka Rinne

San Jose Sharks – Antti Niemi

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