Ducks, Sharks battle for 1st place in Pacific Division

( - A crucial battle for Pacific Division supremacy is on tap at SAP Center, as the Sharks welcome the rival Anaheim Ducks for Thursday's showdown in Silicon Valley.

The Ducks and Sharks enter this clash with 97 points apiece, giving them a 15- point lead over Los Angeles in the two-team race for the division title. San Jose has taken two of three meetings so far in 2013-14, but the clubs haven't met since Anaheim recorded a 6-3 home triumph on Dec. 31.

That New Years' Eve victory ended a four-game series losing streak for the Ducks, who received 33 saves from Jonas Hiller and a goal and two assists from captain Ryan Getzlaf.

San Jose, however, has won the last four encounters at the Shark Tank, where the club boasts a 25-5-4 record this season.

Perhaps guilty of looking ahead to Thursday's pivotal contest, both Anaheim and San Jose are coming off losses in their last game.

The Sharks lost 3-2 in regulation against visiting Florida on Tuesday despite firing 54 shots at Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo. San Jose entered the game having won six straight, including the previous three on the road, before being done in by Luongo's 52-save performance in the opener of a three-game homestand.

San Jose went 1-for-6 on the power play in the loss and failed to score with the man advantage in the third period, when Florida committed four penalties. The Sharks even had 51 seconds of a 5-on-3 in third, but couldn't cash in against Luongo.

"Our power play really had a chance to do something there in the third period and we just couldn't capitalize," said San Jose captain Joe Thornton. "Luongo is a world-class goalie and he made some really big stops there."

Marty Havlat scored a power-play goal in the first for San Jose, while Brent Burns notched an even-strength marker in the third. Antti Niemi gave up all three Florida goals on 24 shots.

The Ducks had won two straight before losing Tuesday's home tilt against the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin netted the game-winner on the power play 2:44 into the third period to lift the visiting Caps to a 3-2 decision.

Anaheim's Mathieu Perreault potted a power-play goal to tie the tilt at 1:32 of the third, but Ducks forward Matt Beleskey went off for slashing at 2:36 and Ovechkin buried a one-timer from the low left circle just eight seconds into the ensuing man-advantage to put Washington on top for good.

Ben Lovejoy tallied Anaheim's other goal, while Hiller allowed three goals on 30 shots for the Ducks, who lost for the fifth time in seven games.

Beginning with Thursday's important test in San Jose, Anaheim is playing four of its next five games on the road. The Ducks are 21-10-3 as the guest this season and have won two straight away from Orange County.

Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler expects to miss a third straight game Thursday due to a leg issue, while forward Nick Bonino is questionable after sustaining a lower-body injury in Tuesday's contest.

Hiller expects to start in net for Anaheim and is 8-10-2 with a 2.32 goals against average and .928 save percentage in his career against the Sharks. Niemi, the likely starter for San Jose, is 9-8-0 with a 2.53 GAA and .907 save percentage in 17 lifetime tilts versus the Ducks.