SAN JOSE – The Sharks haven’t officially clinched a playoff spot just yet. Not officially.
It would take a collapse of epic proportions for them to miss at this point, though. Yes, even worse than blowing a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven. After Tuesday night’s win over Boston, the Sharks opened up a 17-point lead on the fourth place Coyotes, whom they will visit on Thursday.
“I didn’t know it was that big until today,” Patrick Marleau said.
Digging deeper into the math, according to sportsclubstats.com the Sharks are close enough to a sure thing that that’s what the site is showing – 100.0 percent, obviously rounding up a few minuscule digits after the decimal point. Heck, even if the Sharks lost 11 of their final 13 games, they’d still have a 95.2 chance of getting in.
Considering last year’s disastrous playoff-less campaign, and despite the fact they haven’t won anything yet, the Sharks can still take a measure of satisfaction in knowing that they’re in a pretty good position with three-and-a-half weeks to go in the regular season.
“It’s a good feeling, knowing that we weren’t there last year,” Joe Pavelski said. “Obviously, coming into camp we wanted to get back there, first and foremost. The next part is really preparing our game, because when we do get to the playoffs we want to be able to make some noise and compete, and have that chance. It’s a long process, and there’s still a lot of hockey left.”
Marleau said: “It’s a belter position than we were in last year, obviously. It shows the work that’s gone into it, and what it takes to be where we’re at.”
The focus remains on winning the division. San Jose managed to stay in the race with Tuesday night’s win, and is five points behind the Kings and one behind the Ducks. There’s still a possibility of leapfrogging both clubs if they continue to trend up at home, where they have nine of their final 12 after Thursday.
The Pacific Division winner will face either Nashville, Minnesota or Colorado. While those teams have all had decent stretches in the second half – particularly the Predators – all are still more preferable options than facing the Kings or the Ducks.
“Our goal here is to get the best possible playoff positioning we can,” Pete DeBoer said. “Our entire focus isn’t on taking a deep breath because we’re in, it’s on trying to hunt down teams above us.”
Like any coach this time of year, DeBoer stressed that he’d like the Sharks to be playing well going into the playoffs no matter what they are seeded. He’s gotten that in the last two games, wins over the playoff-bound Capitals and Bruins.
The Sharks were noticeably more focused and energized against those two opponents than they had been during a run of eight straight games against non-playoff clubs. The Coyotes are another team that is essentially out of the hunt, so the challenge will be for the Sharks to maintain the high level of play they found against Washington and Boston when facing a decidedly weaker club in Arizona.
“Those are two kind of benchmark games, and there’s no doubt they take an emotional toll,” DeBoer said. “There’s always the risk of a little bit of an emotional letdown after you beat teams you’ve kind of targeted like that. But, we’re smart enough to know that Arizona is a dangerous team.”
Pavelski said: “It’s a long schedule, and that’s never an excuse, but some nights you don’t have your jam. You’re looking in different areas where it went, and trying to find out how to get it back. Washington was probably that team we needed to see to get it back. Everyone’s alertness needed to be there, and it was a good group effort.”
Getting back to the math portion of our program, it won’t be easy for the Sharks to win the Pacific. In fact, in order for them to have a more than 50 percent chance of overcoming the Kings and the Ducks, San Jose will have to secure 23 of a possible 26 points.
It’s challenging, but they’ll try.
“It feels like you have to win every night. Guys want to, and I think guys are hungry,” Pavelski said.
Marleau said: “We still have some games to go, and still want to keep moving up that ladder.”