The San Jose Sharks worked hard over the past two seasons to establish an identity as a defensively responsible team that was rarely going to give up more than two regulation goals. They may have thrown away their hard work thus far in the 2013-14 NHL season to be in position to win the Pacific Division by abandoning their identity Thursday, March 27.
The advantage among the pictured stars was the difference for the visiting Winnipeg Jets. They kept their slim Stanley Cup playoff hopes alive, though their tragic number—a combination of the points they leave on the table and those the Phoenix Coyotes earn—dropped to eight when San Jose's Pacific Division rivals won in regulation to hold onto the final Western Conference wild card position.
Winnipeg's Central Division rival Dallas Stars are five points back of Phoenix, but have two more games to play than either the team they chase or their rival. They have three more games left than another contender for that last Western Conference berth into the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, but are tied with the Pacific Division Vancouver Canucks at 79 points. Even the Nashville Predators are technically ahead in the mix because of more regulation/overtime wins.
The Sharks had more on the line but played sloppy in their own end, failing to recover and clear pucks to blow a 30-21 edge in the circle. (They were even in turnovers, with eight more giveaways but also eight more takeaways.) They faced 11 more shot attempts, allowed one more on the net (blocking seven more) and one more in the net while registering one more hit.
The regulation loss drops San Jose half a game back of first place in the Pacific Division, no matter how the official standings are listed. The Anaheim Ducks not only have three games to make up those two points (their average over three games is over 4.2 points) and own the first tiebreaker, they have an easier schedule with only three games remaining against teams that will be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
That is why the Sharks passed up a great opportunity when playing their own non-playoff team. Five of their remaining seven games are against teams that are likely to qualify.
Winning the Pacific Division is probably necessary to win the Stanley Cup for San Jose. The champion will likely face the difficult Minnesota Wild and the second-place team should feel good about getting by the certain third-place Los Angeles Kings thanks to home-ice advantage. However, the more-physical 2012 champs are definitely a tougher opponent and may not leave their Pacific Division rivals healthy enough to make it through the elite Western Conference.
One recourse the Sharks have is the game remaining against the Ducks. However, it is on the road and even a regulation win requires the defending Pacific Division champions to lose two of their three games in hand (or all three if none are in regulation) to miss out on repeating to earn home-ice advantage until the Western Conference finals.