Sharks hope to have Blake vs. Blackhawks

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By Nicolino DiBenedetto

Stats Writer

San Jose (48-14-10) at Chicago (38-22-11), 8:30 pm EDT

CHICAGO (AP) -- The injury-plagued San Jose Sharks are hoping to

see Rob Blake return, while the Chicago Blackhawks are happy to

have one of their top scorers back in the lineup.

The Sharks will try to extend their winning streak at the United

Center to seven games on Wednesday night when they meet Patrick

Sharp and the Blackhawks for the final time in the regular

season.

It's possible these teams could meet again in the second round

of the playoffs, with San Jose currently battling Detroit for

the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and Chicago trying to

hold off Vancouver for the fourth spot.

The Sharks (48-14-10), who are two points shy of matching their

total of 108 from last season with 10 games to play, already

have clinched a second consecutive Pacific Division title and

are going after their first Presidents' Trophy.

That chase wasn't slowed by a lower-body injury to Blake, as San

Jose overcame his absence to beat Colorado 3-1 on Sunday for its

third win in a row and fifth in six games.

"Considering the bodies (out of the lineup) and the amount of

hockey we've played, I was pleased," Sharks coach Todd McLellan

said. "It's a good time for our organization when that many

players come up and make an impact."

Though forwards Ryan Clowe, Mike Grier, Tomas Plihal, Jeremy

Roenick and Claude Lemieux remain sidelined by injuries, it's

possible Blake could be back Wednesday. The 39-year-old

defenseman has 10 goals and 43 points, ranking second on the

team among blueliners in both categories.

If the six-time All-Star is unable to play, San Jose could again

turn to Alexei Semenov, who had two assists Sunday after being a

healthy scratch in the previous two contests. The 6-foot-6

Russian has one goal and seven assists in 42 games.

"Sometimes when you don't play for two or three games, it's

tough to give your best game, but the team needs me to step up

while Blake is out," Semenov said.

San Jose dropped its last meeting with Chicago 4-2 at home on

Jan. 31, snapping a 13-game winning streak in the series. That

run includes six straight victories at the United Center,

including a 6-5 win Nov. 16 in the Sharks' lone visit this

season.

The Blackhawks (38-22-11), though, are hoping Sharp can build on

a standout performance after he had two goals an and assist in

Sunday's 4-1 win over Los Angeles to snap a five-game losing

streak.

Sharp had missed the previous 16 games with a left knee injury,

and Chicago went 6-7-3. The center, who has two goals in 14

games against San Jose, is second on the club with 25 goals.

"It was great to have him (Sharp) there," said Blackhawks right

wing Martin Havlat, who had one of his two goals assisted by

Sharp on Sunday. "You can see we create more offense with him in

the lineup. We need him."

With 11 games to go, the Blackhawks know they can't afford

another long losing streak if they want to gain home-ice

advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

"I don't want to say a number, but I still think our motivation

is to finish fourth in our conference," coach Joel Quenneville

said.

Chicago may start Nikolai Khabibulin for a third straight game

after he made 14 saves Sunday for his first win in four starts

since a groin injury ruled him out of 14 contests. The

goaltender made 32 saves to beat San Jose on Jan. 31.

Teammate Cristobal Huet is 0-3-1 with a tie and a 4.37

goals-against average in six game against the Sharks. He's also

struggled of late, going 2-4-1 with a 3.50 GAA in his last eight

games.

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