Canucks-Sharks Preview

With every point crucial as they chase their first division title in five years, the San Jose Sharks are hoping to make the most of another golden opportunity against the Vancouver Canucks.

Coming off his first career hat trick, Logan Couture will try to help the Sharks keep the pressure on in the Pacific Division race by dealing the visiting Canucks a franchise record-tying 10th consecutive defeat Thursday night in the back end of this home-and-home set.

After losing three in a row at SAP Center last week, the Sharks locked up their 11th playoff appearance in the past 12 seasons with Monday's 5-2 victory over Los Angeles.

Now they've shifted their focus to capturing their first division crown since the last of a four-year run in 2010-11. San Jose is in a tight chase behind the Ducks and the Kings - both of whom have a game in hand.

The Sharks, though, gained more ground on idle Los Angeles on Tuesday with a 4-1 road win in the opener of back-to-back games against a Vancouver team tied for the league's fewest points.

Couture led the way with his first hat trick after recording 20 career two-goal efforts. The center, who also snapped a 10-game goal drought, has 11 goals and 23 points - his second most versus Western Conference opponent - in 27 career games against the Canucks (27-36-13).

Couture has been a big part of San Jose's return to the playoffs after missing nearly two months early in the season due to a broken leg that was followed by surgery to repair internal bleeding. The Sharks have gone 29-13-5 with Couture in the lineup but are below .500 without him.

''We're a different team with him,'' coach Peter DeBoer said. ''We missed him.''

Though they're a conference-best 26-10-3 on the road, the Sharks (43-28-6) have struggled to break even on the home ice. They've also dropped five in a row there against the Canucks.

Vancouver, however, hasn't been able to win at any venue of late. The club hopes to shake its first nine-game losing streak since a franchise-worst 10-game skid from Oct. 23-Nov. 11, 1997.

The Canucks had two ties during a 10-game winless stretch from Jan. 7-28, 1998.

They've been outscored 28-8 while getting blanked four times during this 0-8-1 stretch. Recalled from the AHL earlier this month, Chris Higgins scored his third goal in 31 games on Tuesday.

The veteran left wing is just one of the players getting an opportunity with Vancouver missing injured regulars Alexander Edler, Luca Sbisa, Brandon Sutter, Radim Vrbata and Derek Dorsett.

Though they aren't getting results, Henrik Sedin insists there's been reason for optimism.

"(Because) we can start talking about (a lack of execution), it's good for us," the captain explained, "because the past two or three months, that hasn't been the case. We've been way too spread out. We haven't played within our structure and that's why we've been losing games."

San Jose's Joe Thornton has at least one point in each of San Jose's last 30 wins dating back to Nov. 28. The center has one goal and seven assists in a six-game point streak against Vancouver.

Brent Burns, who ranks second among all defensemen with 71 points, has six assists in his last four games. The All-Star also has eight assists and 12 points over his past 11 in this series.

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