The San Jose Sharks will play their fifth of 12 consecutive games against the Eastern Conference when they host the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday, March 4. There are three pictured things to watch for that should send the fans home happy.
The Sharks are returning from a 2-1-0 road trip that started after the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Twelve of their 20 remaining games are at home where they are the best team in the NHL since the end of the latest lockout.
This will be the last game before the NHL trade deadline for both teams, and the Hurricanes are likely to be sellers. They sit in seventh place in the weakest division in the league, four games back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. They have also lost five in a row and have just seven wins in 23 games against the Western Conference.
That is in great contrast to San Jose, which is 15-6-2 against the Eastern Conference and perhaps a strong enough contender to not even be deadline buyers. As close to healthy as at any point during the 2013-14 NHL season, this team has everything needed to win a franchise-first Stanley Cup.
Then again, the Sharks are known for playing down to the level of their competition. Their record of 39-17-6 includes no wins and just two points in six games against the Sabres, Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators—all among the seven worst teams in the NHL.
This is a game San Jose has to win to have any chance of getting home-ice advantage beyond the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Failure to capture two points in games against teams likely to miss the postseason altogether will leave the Anaheim Ducks impossible to catch for the regular season Pacific Division crown and top seed. The gap between the teams is already seven points with only 20 games remaining.
The Sharks have three more road games left in the Eastern Conference to none for their rivals. However, they possess two more home games and there are two games head-to-head, with each hosting one. The Ducks can be caught without counting on them to drop off in play, but every point counts.
Even if Anaheim ends up being out of reach, San Jose can win a potential second-round series with the Pacific Division rival without home-ice advantage. What is more important for a team that flew more miles in the 2013-14 NHL season than any other is getting it in the Western Conference finals.
The two teams most likely to be waiting that round are the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. Despite no game left against either, both are within reach at just one and two games ahead of the Sharks in the NHL standings, respectively.
That winner, the Ducks and the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings are probably stops on the road (in reverse order) through the Western Conference. That will be tough, so San Jose needs to take advantage of its opportunities against teams not headed for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.