By MATT BECKER,STATS Senior Writer
When San Jose and Minnesota last met, the Sharks were in the midst of a rough stretch while the Wild were rolling.
These teams are once again heading in opposite directions, this time with San Jose surging and Minnesota sputtering.
The Sharks look to win their fifth straight game Tuesday night when they visit a Wild team trying to avoid losing its fourth in a row.
San Jose (23-11-4) is atop the Pacific Division with 50 points, thanks to an NHL-best 8-1-1 surge since Dec. 15. Prior to this run, the Sharks had lost seven of nine (2-5-2), which included a 2-1 home setback to Minnesota on Dec. 6.
Mikko Koivu had Pierre-Marc Bouchard each scored first-period goals for the Wild in that game, while Matt Hackett recorded 34 saves to win in his NHL debut.
That marked the Wild's fifth consecutive victory and they would eventually extend that streak to seven and open up a five-point advantage atop the Western Conference with a win over Phoenix on Dec. 10.
Minnesota, though, has gone 1-8-3 since.
"We've got to try and find a way to reset," center Kyle Brodziak said after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Calgary. "We've obviously lost our game in the last month or so. Everything we do has to find a way to get back to doing the little things we were doing when we were having success."
Scoring more goals would be a step in the right direction.
The Wild (21-15-6), losers of three in a row, have been limited to two or fewer goals in each of their last nine defeats after scoring three or more goals in seven of their previous nine games.
Brodziak, second on the team with 11 goals, has been in the middle of this funk -- going 10 games without a score.
Minnesota was on the verge of being shut out for the second time in three games Saturday before former Shark Dany Heatley scored his team-leading 13th goal with 6:19 left in the third period.
While Minnesota is searching for offense, San Jose had five players score goals in Saturday's 5-2 win over Washington, its fourth straight victory.
Patrick Marleau scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and added two assists, giving him five goals and eight assists in his last 11 games. He also had two goals in San Jose's first meeting of the season with Minnesota, a 3-1 home win Nov. 10.
Marleau and company kept the pressure on against the Capitals, firing 39 shots on goal.
"We were able to get a lot of chances, and we were rewarded," said defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who scored his third goal.
The Sharks have been doing a lot of that lately, recording at least 35 shots on goal in each of their last seven games.
This could spell trouble for Minnesota, which is surrendering an average of 31.8 shots in its last 10 contests.
Niklas Backstrom is likely to be the one having to deal with San Jose's aggressive attack, and he hasn't been enjoying much success lately, going 1-5-0 with a 3.54 goals-against average since Dec. 19. Making matters worse, Backstrom has lost three straight games to the Sharks and is 2-6-1 with a 3.14 GAA in his last nine in the series.
San Jose's Antti Niemi, who has a 1.62 GAA in winning his three starts this month, was in net for both games against the Wild this season, and is 4-1-0 with a 1.61 GAA and a shutout lifetime against them.