(Sports Network) - The San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes are locked in a tight battle for first place in the Pacific Division and will meet tonight at Jobing.com Arena for the first of three remaining regular-season encounters.
The Sharks head into tonight's contest in Arizona with a two-point lead (95-93) over the Coyotes for the top spot in the Pacific. With 75 games played, San Jose has a game in hand over Phoenix and the clubs will both close out their regular-season schedules with a home-and-home series on April 8 and 9.
The Coyotes are also fourth in the West standings, but they are just six points ahead of Anaheim for the conference's eighth and final postseason berth.
San Jose has posted three regulation wins against the Coyotes and has claimed seven straight games in this series. The Sharks have also notched victories in their last three trips to the desert.
However, the Coyotes have been playing superb hockey this month and they enter this evening's big game with an 8-1-1 record. Phoenix won its second straight game on Thursday, defeating the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets by a 3-0 score.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 28 saves to record his seventh shutout of the season in the victory, while Michal Rozsival, Mikkel Boedker and Derek Morris lit the lamp for the Coyotes.
"He is a top notch goalie, and we rely on him heavily," Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said of Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov is 0-2 with a 3.56 goals-against average this season against the Sharks, but he is expected to get the start tonight.
This evening's tilt is the fourth contest on a six-game homestand for Phoenix, which is 19-12-6 as the host this year.
The Sharks had a four-game winning streak halted in their last trip to the ice, as they dropped a shootout decision Thursday night in Los Angeles. Dustin Brown scored twice in regulation and tallied the game-winner in the fifth round of the shootout, lifting the Kings to the 4-3 win. The victory pulled LA within five points of the Sharks in the Pacific standings.
Patrick Marleau had two goals and an assist in Thursday's loss, while Joe Pavelski also scored in defeat. Both players enter tonight riding six-game point streaks, with Pavelski notching four goals and 10 assists over that span and Marleau adding six goals and six helpers.
Antti Niemi made 35 saves in his 30th straight start in net for the Sharks. He is expected to get the call again tonight and is 2-0 with a 2.40 GAA against the Coyotes this year.
San Jose has lost two of its last three road games and is 22-12-4 as the guest this season.