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Stars at Sharks Preview: Locked and loaded for playoffs

The Stars are out, Sharks are in. It’s time to earn home ice.

Feb 18, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Chris Tierney (50) passes the puck against the Dallas Stars in the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

The Sharks are officially locked in for playoffs. St. Louis lost 4-2 to the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings last night, giving the Sharks their 18th playoff berth in the last 20 seasons. They’re second only the the Detroit Red Wings (24) and Pittsburgh Penguins (22) in postseason appearances since the 1991-92 season.

After a disappointing loss in Vegas on Saturday, the Sharks are back and in need of a win to finish the season ready for playoffs. Prior to the loss in Vegas, the Sharks hit a bit of a rough patch after a very successful eight-game win streak. First, they fell short 3-2 in overtime to the St. Louis Blues. It was a hard-fought game that ended with the men in teal at least coming home with a point.

The following game against the Nashville Predators didn’t go as well. Although the Sharks fell 3-5, there were definitely some positive aspects to the game. Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, and Brenden Dillon all found the back of the net. Haute Bod continues to succeed offensively, while Dillon had yet another goal, his fifth of the season. The 2-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights wasn't all bad either. The Sharks are one step closer to having a healthy roster with the return of Joonas Donskoi. Marc-Edouard Vlasic found the net for his 11th goal of the season.

Things have been bleak for the Dallas Stars. Spending much of the season near the top of the Central Division, they took a sharp nosedive and were eliminated from the playoff race, as they’ve have struggled to win games. They lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks last week with a lone goal from Mattias Janmark. They came out with a point when they took on the Philadelphia Flyers, winning 3-2 in OT.

The Stars then faced the Minnesota Wild twice, losing the first and winning the second. The Wild dominated, winning the first game 5-2. The second game was a more favorable one for Dallas, winning 4-1. John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, Radek Faksa, and Jason Spezza had the goals for Dallas. Netminder Kari Lehtonen made 33 saves on 34 shots.

Will the Stars be an easy win now that they are eliminated from the playoffs?

Not likely. Though the team is struggling, they have a point to prove. Sure, they’re not playing for their life anymore, but now the stakes could be even higher, as some players probably feel as though they’re playing for their jobs. Ken Hitchcock also stated in a press conference that they are not giving up and will be fighting until the end. The chances of the Stars draft position changing is slim to none, so they have no reason to shoot for anything less than a few wins to give their fans a positive end to a disappointing season.

Will we see Joe Thornton hit the ice tonight?

Looks like this one is a big no. Although Thornton is on the mend and hitting the ice for practice, he is still not ready to go just yet. According to Pete DeBoer, it’s doubtful Joe Thornton will see any game minutes going into the last three games of the regular season. Sure, they’ll end the season without Thornton, but the good news is he is participating in full practices now. We can expect a fully healthy Jumbo in April or May, which could be a positive thing if the Sharks can manage a successful playoff run.

Among other injuries: Barclay Goodrow is out after finger surgery, Eric Fehr is out with a lower-body injury, Joakim Ryan is apparently healthy after an upper-body injury but may still sit in favor of Paul Martin, and Evander Kane is a game-time decision after an apparent shoulder injury in Nashville that may have gotten aggravated in Vegas.

Who will be between Dallas’ pipes?

Starting goaltender Ben Bishop suffered a lower-body injury against the Winnipeg Jets in mid-March. He will not be making the California road trip with the team. Kari Lehtonen has been carrying the weight of the missing starter, playing in 28 games this season. He has a total of 14 wins and 14 losses on the season with a .912 save percentage. It’s likely we will see him in net. He’s allowed quite a few goals in recent games and the Sharks could capitalize on the struggling Dallas defense.

Bold prediction: Joonas Donskoi hat trick. Welcome back kid, time to score all the goals.

Be sure to check back later to see projected lines and other info in our gameday thread!