The San Jose Sharks have a chance to be the second Western Conference team to clinch a berth in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs when they host the Washington Capitals Sat., March 22. The Eastern Conference Boston Bruins have already clinched and the St. Louis Blues have three chances to clinch earlier in the day.
The pictured keys to earning the points necessary to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs must be accompanied by help from the Eastern Conference Ottawa Senators. The magic number for the Sharks is three, meaning one or two points have to be earned to clinch plus the Dallas Stars (the first team outside the Western Conference playoff picture) must fail to earn one or two points, respectively.
St. Louis is two points ahead with two fewer games played, and simply needs to earn a point in Saturday's matinee game or have Dallas fail to earn two in the evening. Thus, the gap between them has to be unreachable for San Jose to also make the postseason in the day's final game.
Nevertheless, the Sharks would be the first team in the Pacific Division to clinch a berth. The division standings determine home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the new Stanley Cup playoff format. They could widen their lead over the Anaheim Ducks to a full game and close to within a game of the Blues for the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Capitals are fighting just to make the playoffs at all. They sit a game out of the final Eastern Conference wild card berth. They are 11-8-3 against the Western Conference but just 13-16-6 on the road. They beat the Ducks Tuesday before losing in a shootout at the Los Angeles Kings Thursday.
Evgeni Kuznetsov has been added to their lineup, and they are a different team with Jaroslav Halak in net. Then again, their goalie was not the problem in their January shootout loss in Washington.
They could not score on Antti Niemi, who had 35 saves to one goal against and should be in net and in good form again Saturday. San Jose is the best home team in the NHL at 26-5-4 while going 21-7-3 against the Eastern Conference.
The Sharks have not lost head-to-head at home since 1993 and are hot of late, going 8-1-1 in March to finish their climb to the top of the Pacific Division standings. Even their struggling power play has shown signs of life, scoring in two straight games.
San Jose is better on faceoffs (52.8 to 49 percent), takeaways (7.7 to 6.8 per game), shots (34.9 to 29.9), shots allowed (27.8 to 33.5), blocks (15.8 to 14.5), penalty kill (84.5 to 81.4 percent), goals scored (2.94 to 2.78) and goals against (2.32 to 2.86). Washington has fewer giveaways (7.5 to 10.1), more hits (23.5 to 19.2) and a much better power play (23.9 to 16.1 percent).