SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Left Coast greetings from the Tank (aka HP Pavilion), where Thursday night (10:35 p.m.) the Bruins will kick off their three-game Golden State swing with a match against the desperate Sharks, who are currently in 10th place in the Western Conference and trying to avoid what would be their first postseason DNQ since the 2002-'03 season.
The Bruins are feeling much better about things after back-to-back wins over the Flyers and Leafs, with No. 1 stopper Tim Thomas more closely resembling his two-time Vezina-winning form. Meanwhile, the Sharks have been in shambles (3-4-3 in their last 10 games), and goalie Antti Niemi has been a mess (two losses, 5.45 goal-against and .881 save percentage).
The two recent wins have the Bruins holding the No. 2 seed in the East, and if the playoffs were to start now they would have home ice against the seventh-seeded Senators. The Bruins, with two games in hand, have a three-point edge over the Senators for the top spot in the Northeast Division. If they can maintain the divisional lead over the final 10 games, they are guaranteed one of the top three seeds in the conference--most likely No. 2 or 3.
Puck drop: 10:35 p.m.
Record: Bruins, 42-27-3; Sharks, 36-27-10
TV/radio info: NESN (Jack Edwards, Andy Brickley, Naoko Funayama), 98.5 The Sports Hub (Dave Goucher, Bob Beers)
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jordan Caron
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot-Chris Kelly-Brian Rolston
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg
Greg Zanon-Andrew McQuaid
Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk
Scratches: Rich Peverley, Trent Whitfield, Mike Mottau and Joe Corvo
Storylines: Look for Thomas to start in the Boston net vs. the Sharks and perhaps for all three games on this trip. Coach Claude Julien wants to give his No. 1 stopper a break, but he also wants to secure home ice for the playoffs and make sure Thomas, who showed significant signs of fatigue last week in Florida, is back in top form. ... Rolston sizzled in the 8-0 win over the Leafs on Monday, his name on half of those goals with 1-3--4 production. He looked like the Rolston who wore a younger man's Black-and-Gold clothes in the years 2000-2004. In his 12 games since returning at the trade deadline, he has squeezed off 24 shots. At age 39, he can still get around the rink and he can still shoot. ... After giving up the first goal in seven straight games, the Bruins scored first in their back-to-back wins over the Flyers and Leafs. They also led in both games, after recording 0:00 of lead time in their season-worst four consecutive losses to Washington, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Florida. ... Jumbo Joe Thornton, now 32, still paces the Sharks' attack as their No. 1 point-getter (16-52--68 through 73 games). Unless he really gets on a tear, it looks as if he'll finish below a point-per-game for a second straight season. He remains a reluctant shooter, with only 138 strikes on net this season. He also has only 22 penalty minutes this season, roughly half what he has averaged in his years in Teal. ... Sophomore sprinter Tyler Seguin leads all Bruins with 60 points, a four-point bulge over veteran pivot Patrice Bergeron. Phil Kessel finished with 37 points in his second NHL season with the Bruins. Thornton posted 41 as a sophomore. ... Chara will log career game No. 999 vs. the Sharks, then work his 1,000th game Saturday night in Los Angeles. Quite a road for a kid who in high school was told to stick to basketball. ... The Bruins will fly home from LA on Monday, then face the Bolts on Causeway Street on Tuesday night.