A franchise-record, four-goal comeback win by the Anaheim Ducks has pretty much eliminated the San Jose Sharks from the Pacific Division title Monday, March 31. The Edmonton Oilers are next to visit the SAP Center Tuesday before heading down the coast to the Honda Center Wednesday.
The Sharks are three points down with six games to go. The Ducks have seven games and the tiebreak. Only one game remains between them, and it is played in Orange County.
Anaheim plays twice against Edmonton and has two other games against teams that will not be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Even if San Jose could overcome its much-tougher schedule to win every game, the 2013 Pacific Division champions can repeat by simply beating those weaker opponents and earning one point in one of the other three games.
The title would have helped in a Western Conference riddled with elite teams. The division champion will avoid the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
The Sharks must shake off the disappointment over what might have been and focus on the task at hand. The next two points secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
This win is important not because those two points cannot be earned in the next game against the Pacific Division's third-place Kings technically still chasing them for home-ice advantage. The goal is to take the next step up the ladder as soon as possible.
Taking that step will put a bigger one within reach: San Jose is close to securing home-ice advantage in a potential Western Conference finals matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and only half a game up on the Colorado Avalanche.
Perhaps more importantly, San Jose has a 1-2-2 slump to thank for losing the Pacific Division. That is not the way to go into the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, but it will not even register if the team finishes with double-digit points in the remaining six games that would give them at least 31 points over the final 21 games.
With so much on the line, the Sharks must not overlook the Oilers just because they are the worst team in the Western Conference. The hosts must focus on the matchups on the ice not on paper.
San Jose cannot rely on its 26-6-5 home record or the guest's 12-20-6 road record. The Pacific Division records of 15-6-3 vs. 5-14-4 also have to be overlooked.
In fact, Edmonton is worse in literally every objective statistic: 3.9 percent worse in the circle, 118 more giveaways, 51 fewer takeaways, 62 fewer blocked shots, 7.9 fewer shots on goal, 5.0 more shots allowed, 2.5 more penalty minutes per game, 2.3 percent worse penalty kill and 1.2 percent worse power play resulting in allowing almost one extra goal per game while scoring over one fewer goal per two games.
Once the Sharks have taken care of the obvious keys of focusing on what can be controlled and not taking their foe lightly, three things ensure them home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Tuesday...
The San Jose Sharks have put a lot of rubber on net in their five-game slump (183 shots in 335 attempts) but scored just 13 goals despite two overtimes. One reason they have a shooting percentage of just 7.1 percent is they are not winning the battles in front of the net.
Against the Colorado Avalanche Saturday, 49 shots and 87 attempts yielded just two goals. The hosts scored three on 22 shots and just 33 attempts because they won the battles in front of both nets, as exemplified by their 25-3 edge in blocked shots.
San Jose must be at least as good as Edmonton in front of both nets to win this game.
The team that scores first wins most of the time. The San Jose Sharks have established their success in the 2013-14 NHL season by jumping out to a lead in more than three out of every four games.
Teams that are out of the hunt for a the playoffs tend to lose their fight when they face a deficit. Conversely, their confidence and competitiveness can be fueled the longer they are allowed to stay in the game.
Thus, the Sharks greatly increase their chances of winning this game by merely scoring first.
Pedal to the metal
The San Jose Sharks cannot rest on the first goal, however. They have a maddening tendency to take a shift or two off, and a total of three minutes of poor play turned a dominating performance against the Florida Panthers into a regulation loss.
If they score first but give the Edmonton Oilers an easy goal, they are right back to having a battle. Turning a one-goal lead into two makes the chance of winning very high, and three almost guarantees it.