Blackhawks game day
San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion, 9:30 p.m. Thursday
TV: Comcast SportsNet; Radio: WGN 720-AM.
What to watch: First place in the Western Conference and in the NHL's overall standings is at stake with the Sharks leading the Hawks by 2 points. San Jose has been off since Saturday, which should be an advantage. Cristobal Huet starts in goal for the Hawks and is 2-1 against the Sharks. The Hawks are 0-for-11 on the power play in three games with San Jose.
Season series: Hawks led 2-1.
Next: Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center, 6 p.m. Saturday.
EDMONTON, Alberta - Whatever happens Thursday night when the Blackhawks play the Sharks at HP Pavilion in San Jose, it won't settle the race for first place in the Western Conference.
The Hawks and Sharks have been wagering a battle for the top spot in the West - as well as for first place in the NHL's overall standings - since November, and it's likely nothing will be decided until the regular season ends in April.
"We've pretty much been going head-to-head with them every other night," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "It's kind of been a bit of a rat race, I guess. Every time they go up by a few points we seem to catch them or it's the other way around.
"Every time we face them it's important to steal 2 points from them."
If the Hawks can steal 2 points this time in regulation it would put them in a tie with the Sharks atop the West and overall standings.
The prize for the team finishing first at the end of the year in the West is home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs, which would be huge for the Hawks since they own the second best home record in the league behind Vancouver at 21-5-1.
"Our goal before the season was to win the division and we're doing that right now," Hawks winger Patrick Kane said. "We feel we can be one of the best teams in the league, and we'd like to win the West."
The Hawks go into the Shark Tank with some confidence following Tuesday's 4-2 win at Edmonton, even if it wasn't one of their more energetic performances.
"A win's a win so we'll use that confidence, but we need to play with more energy," Toews said.
The Hawks are 4-2 on an eight-game road trip that has run hot and cold. Maybe the Hawks have been looking ahead to this game too much, although they took care of business in Edmonton.
"As bad as we played in Vancouver, our focus was on (the Oilers)," Toews said.
The Hawks have won two of three games from San Jose, including a 7-2 win at HP Pavilion on Nov. 25. The Sharks won the last meeting 3-2 on Dec. 22 in Chicago when the Hawks went 0-for-7 on the power play.
"It's going to be a tough game," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Obviously they're right at the top so it's for first place with a lot at stake. It's a tough building to play in, but it's also a lot of fun and a good challenge."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn't believe it's still too early to place a lot of importance on this game.
"It's a big game," Quenneville said. "It sets up first place on our side and it could be a very valuable game at the end of the season. We should be ready, and you know they'll be ready to play us."