Familiar players face off as Sharks take on the Wild

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7:30 PST
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8-3-3, 19 points 8-4-1, 17 points
4th in Western Conference 5th in Western Conference
Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Hockey Wilderness
Russo's Rants

Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi make their return to HP Pavilion tonight to face their former team in a game that is so chock full of storylines it's getting hard to keep track of them all.

First up is Brent Burns, who made it clear that while he still has a lot of friends in Minnesota that he wants to see succeed individually, his competitive nature doesn't allow him to hope for success when it comes to his former team.

"I’ve been watching how they’ve been doing, hoping that they would lose every game," Burns told Mark Emmons at Working The Corners. "You have to be competitive to reach this level and I’m a pretty intense guy. And when a team doesn’t want you, you sure don’t want them to go 82-0. I have a lot of friends there and you want them to score six goals and lose."

"Now it’s like an ex-girlfriend," Burns continued with a particularly apt description of the circumstances. "You really don’t want her to get the white-picket fence and the great job. It’s like a good country song."

Working The Corners also caught up with Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley yesterday in a post that can be found here. Both former Sharks spoke about tonight's upcoming game and reflected upon what it means to them-- essentially they want the two points and remain focused on their current team, but admitted that it may be bigger than just another game on the schedule.

It's hard to say definitively what the reaction from HP Pavilion tonight will be for both Heatley and Setoguchi as they make their first appearance in HP Pavilion since being traded this offseason, but one has to figure it should be a positive. Both players were big reasons as to why the Sharks made it into the Western Conference Finals for two straight seasons, scored some big goals at opportune times (Setoguchi especially), and helped the Sharks land the services of Brent Burns and Martin Havlat by virtue of their talents.

They were the ultimate professionals both during and following the trade, and have had nothing but good things to say about the organization since. Furthermore, Setoguchi's pedigree as a Sharks draft pick (along with his love for the team at a very early age) should earn him some bonus points from the wino in section 221 that has had a few too many before the drop of the puck.

"Should" being the operative word here.

Minnesota comes into tonight with a five game win streak in hand, as victories over Vancouver, Calgary, St. Louis, and Detroit (twice) have vaulted them into fourth place in the Western Conference. Their underlying shot numbers haven't been that great throughout the run however-- Minnesota has been outshot four out of five times during their win streak, with their total deficit ringing up at 144-170. And yet they've managed to outscore their opponents 13-3. So what gives?

What hasn't gived* is more like it. Yes, "gived" clearly is not a word, but sometimes style (if you can call it that) trumps grammar. Transitions aren't easy, people.

The Wild have benefited from some absolutely mind-boggling goaltending over the last two weeks, as Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom have combined to post a ridiculous .982 SV% during Minnesota's last five games.

It has been the type of goaltending controversy head coaches salivate over-- the backup (Harding) gets back to back starts against a team he's historically had success against (Detroit), and plays so well he gets the start twice more. Then, with nearly two weeks since his last game, the usual starter (Backstrom) gets the call because Head Coach Mike Yeo doesn't want to leave him on the bench for that long. Backstrom then proceeds to carry his team to a 41 save shutout win on the road against Calgary, and a goaltending controversy (oh what a glorious goaltending controversy) is born.

Mike Russo of the Star Tribune is guessing that Backstrom will get the start tonight against San Jose. He has a lifetime .906 SV% against the Sharks while Harding has only faced San Jose once, posting an .861 SV% and giving up five goals in the start. No official word on who gets the call for the Sharks, but you don't need to be Nostradamus to figure out it will be Niemi.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-3. Goals by Burns (x2), Havlat, and McGinn. Heatley and Setoguchi combine for the Wild's three goals, and McGinn's marker proves to be the difference. I have yet another opportunity to write a post dedicated to his earth-shattering achievements, but end up eating too many chimichangas on Friday and take a nice long nap.

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