Sharks Vs. Coyotes: Rivals Battle For Leg Up In Pacific, 8th Place Playoff Races

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 10: Tommy Wingels #57 of the San Jose Sharks attempts to control the puck after a save from goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes during the second period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on March 10, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes will face off Thursday night in a pivotal Pacific Division game that has major playoff implications. The Coyotes won three of the five meetings this season.

The Pacific Division is a wild place. Coming into the home stretch, four teams have a shot at taking the division crown, with the remaining three hovering around eighth place in the Western Conference. The San Jose Sharks and the Phoenix Coyotes are two of the teams caught in the scrum, and on Thursday night they will face off in game that will temporarily elevate the victor into the playoffs.

With a win, the Sharks would retake the division lead from the Dallas Stars. They fell one point behind the Stars after losing 3-1 to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, and dropped from third place in the West to eighth. A bad 2-11 stretch from the end of February through the beginning of March put them in their current predicament. They've won three of their last four, but the damage has been done.

The Coyotes are the odd man out of the playoff picture in the West at the moment, sitting one point behind the Sharks. With a win, they would thrust themselves right back into the playoff picture. They are 3-2 against the Sharks this season, but lost the last meeting, 4-3, in an overtime shootout on Saturday.

Shane Doan returns for Phoenix after serving a three-game suspension for elbowing Jamie Benn. He has five points in four games against San Jose this season. Antti Niemi gave up two goals on 27 shots faced against the Ducks. Thursday's game starts at 10 p.m. ET in Phoenix.

For more on the Sharks, head over to the SB Nation blog Fear The Fin. Check out Five For Howling for everything Coyotes. Stay tuned to SB Nation's hockey hub for more news and results.

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