<
>

Ducks: Gap tightens in West in time for Sharks visit

Ducks (44-30-5, 93 points) vs. San Jose Sharks (47-23-9, 103) at Honda Center, 7 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. One that got away? – The Ducks would sure like another shot at the Stars right about now. They had a chance to clinch a playoff berth Sunday with a regulation victory against Dallas but instead lost 4-3 after a pair of goals were disallowed in the final two minutes. Dallas won again Tuesday against Columbus to pull to within two points of the Ducks and now have three remaining games against non-playoff qualifiers, two against Colorado and one against Minnesota. The Ducks, meanwhile, face a tough game against the Sharks and back-to-back weekend games against the Kings.

2. Payback game – It was just four days earlier the Ducks played in San Jose and lost, 4-2. In the third period of that game, San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray took a run at Ducks defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and drove him into the boards. Visnovsky, who had set a franchise record for goals by a defensemen earlier in the game, left with an upper-body injury and did not return. Murray was not penalized for the hit but drew the ire of the Ducks, who likely haven’t forgotten. The Ducks can’t lose their focus and go head-hunting for Murray, however. There’s still a very important game to win.

3. Selanne silenced – Just how hot has Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne been the last few months? Selanne has gone the last two games without a point, the first time he has gone two straight without joining the scoring column since Jan. 18-20. Selanne had a goal disallowed down the stretch Sunday against Dallas, and he didn’t take it too well, avoiding the media following the game for one of the few times in his career. Look for him to bounce back big against the Sharks.

4. Third-line fodder – The Ducks recalled left wing Matt Beleskey from Syracuse on March 25 and he has played in all four games since. Beleskey hasn’t done much, however, going scoreless with a minus-four rating in those games. The Ducks like Beleskey’s bigger body compared to Dan Sexton, but Sexton gives the third line a lot more speed, and he seems a better fit with center Brandon McMillen. Might be time for Beleskey to watch from the press box and give Sexton a turn.

5. Shark feast – The Sharks have been the best team in the NHL since mid-January, owning a 26-4-4 record in that time. They clinched the Pacific Division title Monday with a 6-1 rout against the Kings, but are still in a battle with Detroit for the No. 2 seed and home-ice advantage should San Jose advance past the first round. Of course, the Sharks have won six division titles in the last 10 years but never a Western Conference title, so they can't take anything for granted.