The Toronto Maple Leafs helped out the San Jose Sharks by beating the Anaheim Ducks Monday, March 10. One night later, the now third-best team in the Eastern Conference has made its way upstate to face the best home team in the NHL.
With 33 days left in the 2013-14 NHL season, the biggest and most obvious story line for all but four teams in each conference is positioning for the Stanley Cup playoffs. The five pictured things to watch will determine which team wins more than San Jose's statistics edge in goals scored (2.92 per game to 2.83 for Toronto) and goals against (2.34 to 2.96).
Even the records—Sharks: 41-17-7 for a .685 point percentage, 24-4-4 at home and 17-6-3 vs. the Eastern Conference vs. 35-23-8 for a .591 point percentage, 13-12-7 on the road and 13-8-2 vs. the Western Conference—take a back seat to how the teams are playing right now. However both teams have at least eight points in six games since the return from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and won at least three of four before the break.
With a 9-2-1 run (including 2-0-0 vs. the Western Conference), Toronto has climbed just past the long-time rival Montreal Canadiens into position for home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Points in five consecutive road games (3-0-2) have been key, and five of the last six overall went into overtime (three wins, two losses).
San Jose's run has closed the gap with Anaheim to just two games now, but the 2013 Pacific Division champions almost certainly win the first tiebreak. Every point matters in the quest for this year's title that promises an easier first-round matchup in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs than the Los Angeles Kings would provide the second-place finisher.
The Sharks are a different team right now because they are the healthiest they have been all year. Raffi Torres has five points in his five games back from his knee surgery, and one overtime loss is the only blemish on his team's record in them. His return with Logan Couture and Tyler Kennedy plus both Adam Burish and Marty Havlat returning just before the break for the Sochi Olympics far out-weighs losing Brad Stuart.
If these teams continue playing as they have been, it might take overtime for a 3-2 San Jose win.