The San Jose Sharks had everyone going there a moment. It briefly looked as though the team was set to miss its first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in several years, in both the absence of a Pacific Division title and a spot in the top eight in the Western Conference. They're not guaranteed a spot at this point, with just under two weeks to go in the regular season, but they've kicked things into gear.
How have they done that? By winning their last three games by a combined score of 11-5. Their most recent outing was a dominant 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, which gave the Sharks the lead in the Pacific Division. At 88 points, they're just one ahead of both the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes, but San Jose does have a game in hand over the Coyotes. Two points separate the Sharks and the fourth-place Los Angeles Kings, with only the Anaheim Ducks out of contention.
It's the most competitive division in the NHL, with each team leeching off the other to bring their point total down in comparison to the other divisions, but make no mistake: they're all capable of being a force in the playoffs. The Sharks would like to be the strongest force with a top-four seeding. They'll need to keep their feet on the gas though, and win now, as opposed to later. The San Jose Mercury News had some telling quotes from captain Joe Thornton and head coach Todd McLellan:
"We haven't done anything yet," Thornton said. "We've got six games left, and we've got to win some games just to get into the playoffs. It's great getting all the way up to third, but we still have to keep going and working hard every night."
"I don't think we can be worried about positioning right now," McLellan said. "You can not play a game and drop three spots."
San Jose has three games this week and three games the following week. First, we'll focus on the next three games. On Wednesday, the Sharks are set to take on the Anaheim Ducks for the final time this season. San Jose lost the last meeting between the two teams, and that was right about the time most figured the Sharks weren't going to get back on track.
Well now they are, and the Ducks are out of contention. That being said, the Pacific Division rivals would be very happy with the opportunity to play spoiler to the Sharks, though at this point, they'd like to beat anyone in the division just to do it. On Thursday, the Sharks will take on the Phoenix Coyotes, and they'll close out the week against the Stars on Saturday.
All of the remaining opponents for the Sharks are in the Pacific Division, and five of the six games are against teams within two points of them in the standings. Things are about to get incredibly interesting, starting with the 7:00 p.m. pacific matchup on Wednesday in Anaheim.