Appropriately, San Jose must travel to Southern California to wrest the title away. Anaheim is three points up and owns the first tiebreaker with just three games to go for both teams.
The Ducks are also the reigning Pacific Division champions, making this as close to a case of capture the flag as sports can get. Unfortunately for the Sharks, they could even win the battle and lose the war.
Any win for Anaheim sews up the Pacific Division. If San Jose wins in overtime, it is two points away from elimination with two games for both teams. Taking the division away becomes very unlikely.
However, a regulation win for the Sharks puts them just one point behind. If they win their last two games, they have a decent chance to wrest the title away since the Ducks play two Stanley Cup playoff teams in the final two games of the 2013-14 NHL season.
Thus, a regulation win puts San Jose within reach of a slightly easier road through the treacherous Western Conference in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every advantage gained is key.
The Ducks have played three games in four nights, with the previous two being through Western Canada. It was Tuesday before they returned home, meaning they have yet to spend two full nights in any bed for a week.
This is more of a road game for them than the Sharks, who simply had a one-hour flight down the coast after finally having a three-day break in their 2013-14 NHL season schedule to both rest and practice.
Anaheim has been the better team of late, however. It went on a 5-0-1 run since its last match against San Jose in March before cooling off at 1-2-0.
The Sharks are just 3-3-2 since that matchup, dropping them almost out of the Pacific Division race. That is why their urgency is more pronounced, and they can draw confidence from taking three of four from the Ducks so far in the 2013-14 NHL season.
It will be the winner of this game that feels more confident going into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Anaheim still has a reasonable chance to clinch the best record in the Western Conference if they win here, while San Jose's last two games will be rendered almost meaningless with a loss.
The Ducks are expected to start John Gibson for a second consecutive game. New goalies and shooters seem to give the Sharks problems, and he had a shutout in his first NHL start. Todd McLellan has not declared who he will counter with in the other net.
The pictured list explains how the teams compare in offensive, defensive and possession statistics...
The Anaheim Ducks average about two more goals every seven games (3.19 to 2.90) even though they have the disadvantage in the other categories. The San Jose Sharks have a better power play (17.4 to 16.5 percent), average 3.4 more shots per game (34.8 to 31.4) and even have almost two more missed shots per game.
The San Jose Sharks are a better defensive team across the board. They are the third-best shot-blocking team in the NHL (also great at takeaways, a defensive stat covered under possessions), allow the sixth-fewest shots and fourth-fewest goals per game and have the third-best penalty kill in terms of goal differential (i.e. power play goals given up minus shorthanded goals scored).
This is not to say the Anaheim Ducks are not a great defensive team. They have an edge of 396 more hits, though that is the most subjective statistic the NHL tracks. They are only 49 blocked shots behind the Sharks and allow just four more shots every five games.
However, they do take almost one more minor penalty a game getting there. That could be trouble because Anaheim's penalty kill is 18th (81.5 percent) with a goal differential that ranks 14th.
The San Jose Sharks have clear edges in two of three possession statistics. They have won 288 more faceoffs than their opponents during the 2013-14 NHL season, are fourth-worst at giveaways but also third-best at takeaways.
The Anaheim Ducks have lost 93 more faceoffs than their opponents. While they have 165 fewer giveaways than the Sharks, they also have 182 fewer takeaways. In all, that is a difference of 398 possessions—over five per game.