(SportsNetwork.com) - An important battle in the Western Conference playoff race is on tap Saturday when the San Jose Sharks host the Vancouver Canucks in a Pacific Division clash at SAP Center.
The Canucks currently sit tied with Calgary for the second of three automatic playoff bids in the division. Fourth-place Los Angeles is only two behind, while San Jose sits four in back of Vancouver and the Flames. San Jose also trails Winnipeg by four points for the last of two wild card spot in the West.
The Kings host Pittsburgh on Saturday, while Winnipeg visits Nashville. Calgary, meanwhile, is idle today before visiting Ottawa on Sunday.
Vancouver won the first two of five meetings this season with the Sharks, posting a pair of road victories on Nov. 6 and Dec. 30. However, San Jose answered back with a pair of blowout wins in Vancouver, recording a 5-1 rout at Rogers Arena on Feb. 5 before slamming the Canucks, 6-2, earlier this week
Matt Nieto notched two goals and an assist for the Sharks in Tuesday's win. Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom was pulled less than eight minutes into the game after allowing three goals on just four shots. Eddie Lack stopped 23- of-24 shots the rest of the way for Vancouver, which cut the deficit to 3-2 in the second period before San Jose scored three unanswered to end the tilt.
"We wanted to come out strong being on the road," said Nieto. "We were able to get a couple of quick ones there and then we concentrated on keeping them away from the net."
Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each had empty-net tallies in the victory, while Antti Niemi made 26 saves for San Jose. Henrik Sedin scored both goals for the Canucks.
Vancouver lost its second straight game and for the third time in four outings in Thursday's 3-2 shootout setback in Arizona. The Coyotes had lost 10 straight overall and nine in a row on home ice before beating the Canucks.
Lack stopped 33 shots in the loss, while Chris Higgins and Radim Vrbata scored for Vancouver.
"We're not happy getting just one point, but in the big picture, it could be huge at the end of the season," said Lack.
With Ryan Miller sidelined with a sprained knee for at least a few more weeks, Lack is expected to start tonight. His first career appearance against the Sharks came in the relief outing on Tuesday.
San Jose ended February with three straight regulation losses, but is 2-0 in the new month after beating the Canucks earlier this week.
Niemi is 11-8-2 with a 2.55 goals against average in his career versus the Canucks. He is expected to start tonight when the Sharks begin a four-game homestand.
San Jose is 15-14-5 at the Shark Tank this season.