Sharks vs. Coyotes Preview

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PHOENIX, AZ (AP) - The Phoenix Coyotes and first-place San Jose Sharks are separated by two points in the race for the Pacific Division crown.

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For the Coyotes to capture the franchise's first division title, they need to figure out a way to win a game in this series.

Meeting for the first of three times in the final two weeks of the season, Phoenix looks to avoid losing its eighth straight to the Sharks and move into a first-place tie Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz.

According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book have made the Sharks -115 money line favorites for Saturday's game against the Coyotes. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 63% of more than 365 bets for this game have been placed on the Sharks -115.

The Coyotes (41-24-11) moved a point closer to San Jose (43-23-9) with Thursday's 3-0 win over Columbus, coupled with the Sharks' 4-3 shootout loss to Los Angeles. Phoenix now has 93 points, while San Jose has 95 and a game in hand on the Coyotes.

The division race might go down to the wire, with the Coyotes and Sharks set for a home-and-home series to conclude the season April 8 and 9.

"We've got six left and San Jose three times, so those are obviously going to be big games for us," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Going into Saturday night's game you've got to recognize your opponent, and what could be at stake."

San Jose finished six points ahead of second-place Phoenix last season to win its third straight Pacific title.

The Coyotes could be in a first-place tie with a regulation win, but they've lost seven in a row to the Sharks since a 2-1 victory Dec. 12, 2009. They've been outscored 13-6 in this season's three meetings.

Phoenix was on the verge of snapping that losing streak in the last matchup Feb. 1, leading 3-0 late in the second period, but San Jose rallied for five unanswered goals. Joe Pavelski scored twice to start the comeback, and Patrick Marleau's short-handed goal with 6:05 remaining put the Sharks ahead.

Antti Niemi was pulled midway through the second period after allowing three goals, but he's been instrumental to San Jose's playoff push lately. He has made 30 straight starts, going 21-4-4 with a 2.19 goals-against average and three shutouts.

Niemi and the Sharks were fortunate to earn a point Thursday.

Marleau scored the tying goal twice in the final 3:32 of the third period, getting his second with just 4.1 seconds left after the Kings went back in front with 1:42 remaining. Marleau has six goals in his last four games.

"Patty's really played well lately and he's scored big goals for our team," coach Todd McLellan said of Marleau, who has seven goals in his last five contests against Phoenix.

While Marleau is carrying San Jose, which had a four-game winning streak snapped Thursday, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is leading a Phoenix team seeking its first division title in the franchise's 31-year history.

Bryzgalov made 27 saves Thursday to move into a tie with Nikolai Khabibulin for the franchise lead in shutouts with 21. He is 6-1-0 with a 1.29 GAA and two shutouts in his last seven starts.

"He is top notch, and we rely on him heavily," Tippett said.

Bryzgalov, though, has a 3.56 GAA in two starts against San Jose this season.

The Coyotes have won seven of eight, but Bryzgalov feels his team must get off to a better start to have a chance against the Sharks. Phoenix has no goals in the first period of its last four games, averaging just 6.5 shots.

"If we start the game against San Jose like (Thursday) and the previous game, we're going to be behind," Bryzgalov said. "We need to be ready as soon as the puck drops."

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