Posted March 31, 2012 on AP on Fox
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With another disheartening loss, the Dallas Stars dropped out of the Pacific Division lead and toward the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture. The San Jose Sharks experienced a similar feeling earlier in the week. The wild race for the Pacific title gets more interesting as the slumping teams begin a crucial home-and-home series Saturday night at HP Pavilion. Dallas entered Friday atop the Pacific, but its 5-2 loss at Vancouver and Los Angeles' 4-1 win at Edmonton gave the Kings the division lead and sent the Stars (42-31-5) into a tie with Phoenix for the West's final two playoff spots. Dallas has lost three of its last four on the road and five of eight overall. "It puts a little bit more pressure on (Saturday's game)," captain Brenden Morrow told the team's official website. "They only get bigger after that. It puts more pressure on these next games. As hard as it is after a 5-2 loss you have to try and find something positive because we're going right back at it. You have to slap yourself in the butt a little bit and then park it and get ready for that next game in less than 24 hours." Steve Ott, who scored his 11th goal of the season Friday, said the playoffs have already begun for the Stars. "We need to find a way to regroup," Ott said. "We wanted to grab points. We had a pretty solid first period with a lot of scoring chances, but we couldn't capitalize. This is playoff hockey for us, and we've enjoyed it the last couple of months." The Sharks (39-29-10) held the Pacific lead earlier this week but fell 3-1 at Anaheim on Wednesday. They dropped out of the playoff picture with a 2-0 loss at Phoenix the following night in what captain Joe Thornton called "another heartbreaking loss." San Jose sits one point behind Dallas and Phoenix, but it could potentially jump back into the conference's top eight with a victory Saturday. Coach Todd McLellan said his team can't dwell on the past defeats. "I keep saying that we got to leave this behind and move on, but with four left we better make some hay quick,'' McLellan said. The Sharks will face the Stars again April 3 before ending the season with a home-and-home set against Los Angeles on April 5 and 7. Ryane Clowe, who scored in two straight games prior to Thursday, said each player needs to contribute. "If you've got 14 or 15 guys going this time of year, you're not going to win, especially against Dallas and L.A.," Clowe told the team's official website. "You need everyone. We have to have all four lines rolling, and we need the tenacity. We can get the grit up a bit." San Jose had won five straight meetings with Dallas before the Stars' 4-3 shootout victory in the most recent meeting March 8. Kari Lehtonen made 45 saves and stopped all four in the shootout to earn the victory, though it's unclear if he'll get the start on back-to-back nights after making 26 saves before being pulled midway through the third period of Friday's loss. Antti Niemi has gone 3-2-0 with a 1.79 goals-against average in his last five starts after making 31 saves in San Jose's loss Thursday. He's 4-0-1 with a 1.77 GAA in his past five starts versus Dallas.
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