SAN JOSE – While the Sharks have had their struggles getting up for non-playoff teams, with the most recent example Saturday’s 3-0 home loss to Nashville, their efforts against the better teams in the league have been strong. Especially lately.
In the post-Olympic break portion of their schedule, the Sharks can boast of a 7-1 mark against teams that are currently in playoff position (as opposed to a 5-4-3 mark against non-playoff opponents). The lone defeat came on March 29 in Colorado, a 3-2 loss in which they fired 49 shots on goal in a very competitive match.
On Wednesday, the Sharks will play their biggest game of the season to date. Win, and a Pacific Division title is still a possibility. Lose, and first round matchup with the formidable Los Angeles Kings will begin next week.
“We know what’s on the line,” Logan Couture said. “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.”
[REWIND: Sharks back on top after win over Ducks]
Brad Stuart said: “When you’re playing against a team you know is good, your mental preparation is easy because you know you need to be on top of your game or you will get embarrassed. It’s the teams that are a little bit lower in the standings that we have had trouble with. But, when we get in the playoffs we’ll face teams that we know are good, and we’ll be up for those games. We have to make sure that we’re ready for that.”
A playoff spot has already been clinched, of course, and although no one in the Sharks’ room would ever go on record and say they’d rather play Minnesota than the Kings, that matchup would be a much easier path. A Sharks-Kings first round series has the potential to be a bloodbath.
They will need help, though, if they want to avoid Los Angeles. Even if they beat the Ducks on Wednesday in regulation and win their final two games against Colorado and Phoenix this weekend, the Sharks will have to hope Anaheim gets no more than two points in its final two games. The Ducks have clinched the first tiebreaker of more regulation/overtime victories.
“You can’t control what they do. The only thing you can do is win against Anaheim [Wednesday], win the other two games, and that’s it,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “We’ve got to take care of business.”
Although the game is in Anaheim, the Sharks should be the more energized club. They’re currently enjoying their only post-Olympic three-day break, while the Ducks will be completing a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, including the first two in Canada.
Todd McLellan is hopeful that the rest doesn’t equate to rust. And, he’d like to see his team perform better at Honda Center, where it is just 2-5-0 since the start of the 2011-12 season, with losses in four of the last five. Anaheim won 6-3 on Dec. 31 in the only other meeting there this season.
“We had some good energy in practice,” McLellan said. “We know we’re going down to Anaheim where we didn’t play well earlier in the year, and we have to perform at a higher level to be successful, and from there we’ll take the games as they come.”
The Sharks won all three home games against the Ducks, including March 20, 3-2. Earlier, they won in a shootout on Nov. 30, 4-3, and on Dec. 29, 3-1.
A second round playoff meeting would happen if both teams make it past the quarterfinals.
“It’s a big game for us to get feeling good again going into the playoffs,” Stuart said. “We’re playing a really good team that we might end up facing again down the road.”
Vlasic said: “When you play good teams, you have to step up for it. We have, and it’s a good sign.”