The Sharks head into tonight’s showdown at first place Anaheim needing a win to stay alive in the race for the division title. Even with a victory, San Jose will still need help to pass the Ducks in the final two games of the regular season.
The Sharks trail the Ducks by three points and will likely need to win their final three games, including in regulation tonight, and hope the Ducks lose one of their final two games to Los Angeles or Colorado in regulation as well.
“We know what’s on the line,” center Logan Couture said Tuesday. “Obviously, if they beat us then they win the division. We’re going to have to go in there and play like a desperate team and play one of our better games if we want to beat that team. We know how good they are. It’s going to be a challenge for us, and I think the game is coming at a good time for us.”
If the Sharks ultimately end up short in the race for the division title they can point to their performance against some of the league’s also-rans for that.
Since the Olympic break, the Sharks have lost seven of 12 games against teams that are not currently in playoff position, while winning seven of eight against teams that appear headed to the postseason.
San Jose’s division hopes seemed to take a major hit with a 3-0 home loss to Nashville on Saturday but the Ducks dropped a game at last-place Edmonton the following night to keep the door open.
Now the Sharks need to be at the top of their game against one of the NHL’s best teams.
“We know we have to be on top of our game against the good teams and we’re able to do that because we are a good team,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “Where we’ve gotten in trouble is when we’ve played teams that maybe aren’t up in the standings. That’s when our game has struggled. It’s unfortunate we’ve let points slip away in those types of games.”
The Ducks have also lost six games since the Olympic break to teams not in playoff position, including two to Edmonton, as neither team has taken a stranglehold on the division race.
First place comes with a prize more important than a banner to hang in an arena as the team that finishes on top of the division also will not have to play Los Angeles in the first round.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and knocked out the Sharks on the way to the conference finals last season and figure to be a tougher first-round opponent than Minnesota, the likely matchup for the division winner.
“For me personally, it doesn’t matter where you finish or who you play,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “You’ve got to beat good teams to go on and win the Cup. But you’ve got to be playing well going into the playoffs, feeling good.”
The Sharks called up forward Bracken Kearns from Worcester of the AHL on Tuesday and coach Todd McLellan said he could move right into the lineup to give the team a needed spark because some players have gotten too “comfortable.”
“It’s that time of year where you have to be honest with each other, you have to have a high level of trust, and if there’s players that aren’t giving us that, then there’s no need for them to play,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”