First-place Sharks host sliding Jets

( - An excellent month has the San Jose Sharks in position to win their first Pacific Division title in three seasons.

The current leaders have little room for error though and try to notch a second straight victory on Thursday night in a matchup with the struggling Winnipeg Jets.

San Jose has not won a division crown since claiming its fourth straight Pacific Division title in 2010-11. However, the club has already locked up its 10th straight trip to the postseason and enters play two points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the division.

However, the Ducks are idle tonight and already have two games in hand over the Sharks, who are a mere two points behind the St. Louis Blues for the most in the NHL but, again, with two more games played.

San Jose has gone 9-1-3 in March and followed up consecutive shootout losses with a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. Joe Pavelski notched a hat trick, while Patrick Marleau and Marty Havlat also scored.

Pavelski came into the season having never totaled three goals in a game, but has now done so three times in this campaign. He leads the Sharks with 37 goals this season and is tied with Joe Thornton for the club high with 71 points.

Pavelski helped spark San Jose to five straight goals after Edmonton scored just 4:11 into the contest and the Sharks scored on all three of their power- play chances.

"We settled in and we did some good things," San Jose head coach Todd McLellan said of his team responding after going down by a goal. "Everyone contributed. It was good to see guys dig in and find a way to win."

Marleau added an assist and Thornton had two helpers. Thornton is second in the NHL with 60 assists on the season.

San Jose played without forward Logan Couture after he blocked a shot with his leg on Monday. He is questionable for tonight.

Antti Niemi, who backstopped Tuesday's victory with 28 saves, is 2-1-1 with a 2.91 goals against average lifetime versus the Jets, who the Sharks have had a great deal of success against.

San Jose has gone 7-1-1 in its past nine meetings with the Winnipeg franchise and is 6-1-0 all-time at home in this series.

The Sharks notched a 1-0 victory when they hosted the Jets on Jan. 23, getting a goal from Pavelski and a 20-save shutout by backup Alex Stalock.

The Jets have had their postseason hopes damaged by losing nine of their last 11 games. That has put them nine points out of a playoff spot with nine games to play.

Winnipeg battled in Monday's meeting with the Dallas Stars, but dropped a 2-1 decision as all three goals scored in the game came on the power play.

Bryan Little contributed Winnipeg's lone goal with 2:44 to play, while Al Montoya made 25 stops.

"I thought we battled hard to try and get back in the game for the most part, especially in the third," said Little.

Winnipeg lost the opener of a five-game road trip and played without Andrew Ladd. He missed the game after his wife gave birth on Sunday night, but is expected to return tonight.

Forward Blake Wheeler could also play despite getting shook up late in Monday's game. He was hit into the open door of the Dallas bench and immediately rolled on the ice in pain. Wheeler was then helped off the ice, but did return to the bench before the game was finished.

Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, meanwhile, is close to returning from a lower- body injury. He has not played since March 14, but is not expected to suit up for this game.

That likely means another start for Montoya, who beat the Sharks the only other time he faced them by stopping 40-of-41 shots faced.