Sharks begin crucial road trip vs. Jets

( - The San Jose Sharks begin a crucial seven-game road trip on Tuesday when they visit the Winnipeg Jets in a key Western Conference playoff battle at MTS Centre.

The Sharks enter the lengthy swing five points behind Los Angeles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Jose also is five behind the Calgary Flames for the third and final automatic bid from the Pacific Division. The Flames, who host St. Louis tonight, own the current tiebreaker over the Kings.

Winnipeg, meanwhile, was idle Monday when the Kings knocked them out of the second wild card with a 1-0 win over Arizona. The Jets have a chance to regain the last playoff berth with L.A. off on Tuesday.

San Jose has been solid on the road lately, winning two straight and four of its last five as the guest. The Sharks own a 17-11-3 away record this season and are 2-0-1 in three games at MTS Centre since the Jets relocated from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season.

The Sharks will face all Eastern Conference opponents for the remainder of this trip and they won't play their next home game until welcoming Colorado on April 1.

San Jose lost for only the second time in six games when it had a two-game win streak halted Saturday against Chicago. The tilt was tied 2-2 after 40 minutes, but the Blackhawks scored four unanswered in the third period to breeze to a 6-2 victory at the Shark Tank.

Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton supplied offense for the Sharks, who finished 2-2 on a four-game homestand. Antti Niemi allowed five goals on 29 shots in defeat.

"We played a solid two-period game," said Thornton. "The third goal was a heartbreaker, and the fourth put it out of reach."

After tonight, San Jose will continue its trek with Thursday's game in Toronto. The Jets are beginning a three-game homestand tonight on the heels of a 2-2-0 road trip. Winnipeg capped the swing with Saturday's 2-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After going down 1-0 in the third period, Drew Stafford and Blake Wheeler scored goals to help the Jets take the regulation win in Tampa.

Ondrej Pavelec only had to make 15 saves for the win, as the Jets were outshot 29-16 in the contest.

Wheeler extended his point streak to four games, but Winnipeg's Michael Frolik lost an eight-game run.

The Jets, who also will host St. Louis and Washington during this homestand, are 17-11-5 at MTS this season.

Several Winnipeg players are nursing injuries heading into this homestand, including defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers and top centerman Bryan Little.

Byfuglien (upper body) and Little (lower body) missed the entire road trip while Myers sat out Saturday's game with an upper-body issue. The two blueliners could be back tonight, but Little is expected to miss the contest.

Also, Paul Postma suffered a lower-body injury against the Lightning and Jets coach Paul Maurice said the defenseman will be sidelined for "weeks, not days."

San Jose has won three of the last four meetings versus Winnipeg and boasts a 4-1-1 mark over the past six encounters.