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Sizzling San Jose Sharks gearing up just in time for playoffs

There isn't a hotter team in the NHL right now than the San Jose Sharks and they don't sound like they're done winning, either.

"Our confidence level is as high as it possibly could be right now," superstar centre Joe Thornton said Monday.

It should be high, the Sharks carrying a franchise-record, nine-game winning streak into Tuesday night's game at Nashville.

"We've got a lot of players that have really picked up their game," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told The Canadian Press on Monday. "We think we didn't play up to our expectations for the first two-thirds of the year and I think our guys have a lot of pride and a lot of experience with the seven playoff rounds the last three seasons and I think they know and feel if we play our game we're as good as anybody in this league."

The timing is brilliant with a month to go before the NHL playoffs.

"I feel like we're peaking at the right time," Thornton, named the NHL's third star Monday after putting up seven points in four games last week, said on a league conference call.

"Really everybody is just playing really good hockey," he added. "We don't have have one thing necessarily that's going incredibly well, we're just playing every game real solid. Good defensive hockey. We're getting production from our second, third and fourth lines. And obviously the acquisition of Brian Campbell really helped as well."

Wilson pulled the trigger one of the most important trade deadline deals of the year - bringing in the kind of offensive blue-line star in Campbell the team had sought for a while. The former Buffalo Sabres star has yet to taste defeat as a Shark, the team going 7-0-0 since his arrival. He has six points (1-5) in those games and has played around 24 minutes a game.

"By getting Brian Campbell we added something we all thought we needed - a puck-moving defenceman who plays a lot of minutes, plays well defensively and plays on the power play," said Thornton, a childhood friend of Campbell's.

Thornton has taken Campbell under his wing, giving him a place to stay and driving him to the rink every day. You can bet he's extolling San Jose's virtues as Campbell heads into free agency July 1.

"He's my roommate so I'm trying to get him signed right now," Thornton said with a laugh. "No, I'm not sure what his plans are to be honest but obviously we'd love to have him back. But we're not talking about it too much right now, we're just letting the season play out and see what happens. He knows California is nice and warm and the weather is beautiful."

A long playoff run may certainly help Campbell's decision. It took a while this season, but the Sharks are living up to the pre-season hype that had them picked by many to win their first Stanley Cup.

After reaching the Western Conference final in 2004, the post-lockout Sharks haven't got past the second round. Thornton feels it's time.

"I think our mindset is different, we know what it takes to get over that hump that we couldn't get over in the past two years," said Thornton. "I love our toughness, I love our speed and I love our goaltending. Our confidence is high at the right time of year.

"I really do like this team a lot and I do look forward to the post-season this year."

Winning the Pacific Division would help. The Sharks are one point behind division leader Dallas with defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim just three points back of San Jose. Winning the division likely means the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Not winning it likely means an hugely tough first-round draw against one of those Pacific powerhouses in the 4-5 West matchup.

Best avoid that if possible in the first round.

"Yeah, we want to get up as high as we can obviously," said Thornton. "We'd like to start at home in the playoffs hopefully. But we know it's going to be tough. Anaheim has been playing great and so has Dallas. It's just a real tough division we're in. ...

"We play Dallas and Anaheim twice more each and those are going to be huge games for us."

Wilson agrees the Pacific Division battle is important but also feels the team's stellar road record (24-8-3) can help deal with a potential tough matchup.

"Obviously we're very comfortable playing on the road," said the Sharks GM. "We think we can play in any building at any time.

"Yes it would be nice to finish first, the higher the seed the better, but I really think if you look historically there's a lot of teams that maybe bumped along and faced a little adversity that kicked it into gear at the end of the year and went on to have great success in the playoffs."


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