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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sharks, Thursday 1/14

After a disappointing 4-3 loss in Anaheim last night, the Bruins (22-16-7) will head north to San Jose to take on old friend Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks (30-10-7).

The Bruins had last night’s game in their grasps, enjoying a 3-2 lead at the second intermission. But two early third period goals by the Ducks erased that lead, and Boston just could not rebound. It was the fifth straight win for the surging Ducks, while Boston is reeling, losing four of their last five games.

San Jose, with two road wins earlier this week over division rivals Los Angeles and Phoenix, has climbed atop the Western Conference standings, leap-frogging Chicago by one point. The Sharks have won 8 of their last 10 games, and with 8 of their next 9 games at home, the Sharks have a great opportunity to extend that conference lead.

Bruins fans don’t get to watch the Sharks much with them playing on the west coast so often, but hockey fans who have seen San Jose in action have to appreciate how talented a team they are from top to bottom. So here now are a few game notes heading into tonight’s late night tilt with the Sharks… Bruins fans, take a nap now, you won’t want to miss this game!

- In the only meeting between these two teams last season, the Sharks came back with four third period goals to beat Boston, 5-2. Boston won the last game in San Jose, 2-1, back in October of 2007.

- Boston is 13-6-5 all time against San Jose, but the Sharks are 3-1-1 vs. Boston in the last five games.

- San Jose has definitely had good health on their side all season long. With the exception of center Manny Malhotra, who has been sidelined with an undisclosed lower-body injury since Dec. 31st, the Sharks are completely healthy. Boston, well… on the contrary. Boston got Byron Bitz back in the lineup last night vs. Anaheim, but they are still without defensemen Mark Stuart (broken sternum) and Andrew Ference (groin), and centers Patrice Bergeron (broken thumb) and Marc Savard (knee). Bergeron and Stuart could be back in action within the next week or so.

- The Sharks are of course led by arguably the best forward line in the league, centered by former Bruin Joe Thornton. Thornton, whose 49 assists lead the league, has the pleasure of riding with wingers Dany Heatley (27G, 24A) and the league’s leading goal scorer Patrick Marleau (31G, 18A). Marleau has five goals in his last five games. Thornton, who has 11 goals to go with those 49 assists, is second only to Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin’s in the league’s points race. Sedin is four ahead of Thornton, with 64 points on the year.

- In net for San Jose, look for veteran Evgeni Nabokov (26-7-7, 2.29GAA) to be in goal tonight, facing Boston’s Tim Thomas. Nabokov currently ranks second in the league in wins, with his 26. He is backed up by goaltender Thomas Greiss (4-3-0, 2.66GAA).

- Being at the top of the NHL, needless to say, the Sharks do a lot of things well. Their 4.36 goals per game vs. the Eastern Conference is by far, the best in the league. San Jose has gone 9-2-0 in their 11 games against the East thus far. Overall, their 3.13 goals per game average is good for a tie for third in the league.

- Like Boston, another aspect of San Jose’s game that they pride themselves in is the penalty kill. Tonight’s game will be a matchup of the league’s top two penalty-killing units, with Boston’s 87.6% ranked first, followed by San Jose’s 87.1%.

- The winners of the battles at the faceoff dot could play a big role in who takes home two points in the standings. The Sharks are the league’s best team in faceoff percentage, winning 55.4% of their scrums, while Boston also ranks among the NHL’s best, currently sitting in fourth, at 52.5%.

- And now, we highlight some Sharks players with local ties to the area. The obvious place to start is with Joe Thornton. Thornton was a former #1 overall pick of the Bruins, but was traded away to the Sharks in November of 2005, in exchange for Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau, and Marco Sturm. Only Sturm remains on the team. Also tied to the Boston area is rookie center Benn Ferriero. Ferriero, who played for Boston College from 2005-09, has two goals and three helpers in 22 games with San Jose.

- Lastly, I reserve this spot for a man who truly deserves a handshake. Jay Leach, former Providence College defenseman (1997-2001), joined the Sharks in December after being waived by Montreal. Leach spent 2003-07 playing for the Providence Bruins, also appearing in two games with the big club in Boston during the ’05-’06 season. He has appeared in five games for the Sharks since joining the team. All that is well and good, and none of it is really all that impressive, honestly. But what is impressive is who he tricked into marrying him… none other than NESN’s own, Kathryn Tappen. So tonight, look for that special twinkle in Kathryn’s eye as she previews tonight’s game with her husband in mind, and on the ice, hope for one of the Bruins’ bruisers to flatten “Mr. Tappen,” making him so hideously unattractive that K-Tapp decides to dump him for her favorite SportsofBoston.com Bruins blogger, yours truly. (Sorry, with Martin Luther King Day fast approaching, can’t “I have a dream” too?)

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