The San Jose Sharks have won a lot of games over the past four weeks to get on the verge of a ninth consecutive postseason appearance, but they've been unable to solve the playoff-hopeful Dallas Stars.
San Jose looks to avoid its first season sweep in a decade to the Stars, whose slump is putting a damper on their playoff hopes going into Tuesday night's matchup at HP Pavilion.
Coach Todd McLellan is focusing on the big picture rather than any instant gratification that comes from securing a postseason spot. San Jose (24-14-7) needs only one point to do so but fell 4-3 to Columbus on Sunday, snapping a three-game winning streak.
"I wasn't concerned with getting a point and putting an X by our name," McLellan said. "I was concerned about our game. It's our game that will get us there or won't get us there. Forget about the clinch part."
It was only the second home loss in regulation all season for the Sharks, who are 11-3-1 overall since March 25. However, half of those losses came to Dallas, which has won all three meetings this season and hasn't swept this season series since taking all five meetings in 2002-03.
While the Stars are two points behind Columbus and Minnesota for the Western Conference's final two playoff spots, San Jose trails Los Angeles by two for the fourth seed but is only one ahead of sixth-place St. Louis. The Sharks finish the season with two on the road following Tuesday's contest, facing Phoenix on Wednesday and the Kings on Saturday.
Joe Pavelski's 15th goal tied Sunday's game with 5:03 to play, but his costly turnover led to Columbus' goal with 1:37 left.
"It was right there for us obviously," Pavelski said. "It's tough ... but we have to move on and get better from this and I have to try to execute better next time."
Meetings with Dallas this season haven't gone very well, either. The Sharks fell 3-1 on Feb. 23, then rookie Alex Chiasson scored twice to lead the Stars to a 5-4 shootout victory at San Jose on April 7. Chiasson scored again six days later to help Dallas win 2-1, but he's missed the last three games with a shoulder injury.
Coach Glen Gulutzan isn't sure when Chiasson will be able to return for the Stars (22-19-4), who have dropped three of four after falling 4-3 in overtime to Los Angeles on Sunday.
"Points are huge right now," said defenseman Alex Goligoski, who had a goal and an assist Sunday. "We battled to get one point, and then kind of let it slip right there, but we've just got to move on. If we win these next three, we feel like we have a pretty good shot here."
Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves and is 1-1-1 with a 2.30 goals-against average in three starts since returning from a groin injury. He won the shootout in his only game versus the Sharks this season but allowed four goals for the seventh time in 12 career starts against them, going 5-6-1 with a 3.58 GAA.
The Sharks will likely counter with Antti Niemi, 4-2-0 with a 1.80 GAA over his last six starts. He's lost all three meetings with the Stars this season while posting a 2.96 GAA.