With six wins and an overtime loss in their last nine games dating back to before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the San Jose Sharks have asserted themselves as a true Stanley Cup contender. Only three teams have more points so far in the 2013-14 NHL season after the win by the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday, March 9.
All three teams are in the Western Conference, but two Eastern Conference teams actually have better records because of games in hand. Considering the workload is already 17 games in 33 days, the Sharks may be better off having fewer games remaining than all but one of the pictured teams they are most likely to face to capture the 2014 Stanley Cup.
Beating a bad Edmonton Oilers team got Chicago one more point and regulation/overtime win with the same number of games played. St. Louis took over the top spot in the league with a shootout win Sunday. Anaheim is a point behind them with 93, four points up with a game in hand over San Jose.
The Pacific Division rivals play each other once in each rink down the stretch of the 2013-14 NHL season. The Sharks have no games remaining against any of the other teams ahead of them to help them climb the standings. There is only one game remaining against the red-hot Los Angeles Kings, making a nine-point lead pretty safe.
This leaves San Jose fighting for either first or second place in the Pacific Division. The more likely latter finish results in an almost-certain matchup with Los Angeles in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Bovada gives the payout for the Sharks to win at 5:2 to win the Pacific Division while the Ducks are 1:4. That puts the chances of the former catching the latter somewhere around 25 percent.
If Anaheim is caught, the Minnesota Wild would probably be the first-round opponent. However, winning the Pacific Division is unlikely and results in too many possible foes with so much time left in the 2013-14 NHL season for any of them to make the cut of the five most-likely postseason stops.
Likewise, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not on the list since the Sharks have a better chance of meeting teams in the Western Conference. Any team's chance of making the Stanley Cup finals is low because it takes three series to get there. The only Eastern Conference team worth previewing is the one with the best chance, and that is the balanced and tested Boston Bruins.
The Penguins have a shaky goalie and pedestrian blue line without Kris Letang. They are 20-21 in the playoffs without a single win beyond the Eastern Conference semifinals since capturing the 2009 Stanley Cup.
They are definitely contenders, but only get 2:1 odds from places like Bovada because the betting public is enamored with offensive stars. Provided San Jose can even make it through to the Stanley Cup finals, the chances of meeting Pittsburgh are no higher than 25 percent.
Boston is a slightly more likely foe, and the highest chances of matchups belong to other teams likely to be met in the Western Conference portion of the playoffs. Los Angeles is a very likely first-round or possible second-round foe, while 2013 Pacific Division champion Anaheim is about an even chance to be waiting in the second round.
The most likely winners in the Central Division to play for the Western Conference finals are St. Louis (4:9 payout) and Chicago (2:1). Both are just a little more likely to win two rounds than Pittsburgh is three.
Their top competition in the Central Division is the Colorado Avalanche (10:1). This very good team is too young and inexperienced to expect a win over both teams ahead of them during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They are also seven points behind the Blues. Beating an improved team without home-ice advantage in the second round is more difficult than just getting there, leaving the Avalanche a less likely foe than even the Wild or Penguins.
No other foe is likely enough to be even considered. Thus, the order of the pictured list of five most likely foes—examined for how the teams match up—is from most- to least-likely stops on San Jose's 2014 Stanley Cup run. Ultimately, this team has almost as good a chance as anyone in the tough Western Conference.