Programming note: Sharks-Jets coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live.
SAN JOSE – The 10th-place Sharks know that in order to make it to the playoffs, they’re going to have to catch two teams in the standings. Winnipeg is almost certainly one of them. The Jets (34-23-12, 80 points) own a four-point cushion on San Jose (34-27-8, 76 points) headed into Tuesday night’s game at MTS Centre as the Sharks kick off a seven-game road trip.
Win, and the Sharks remain in contention. Lose in regulation, and the hill that they have to climb to make it back into playoff position suddenly becomes a mountain.
“We’re chasing that team, and we saw in the Vancouver game, if we could taken care of business in that one we’d be that much closer,” said Joe Pavelski, referring to the Sharks’ 3-2 home loss to the Canucks last week. “Guys understand we’ve got to keep playing hard like we’ve been doing, and start this trip off right.”
The Sharks have been playing much better hockey since the start of March, winning four of six games and looking like a more confident and driven club that knows its life is in danger. It could be too little too late, but there are least some positive signs that they’re improving.
San Jose went 2-2 on a recent four-game homestand that ended with a 6-2 loss to Chicago on Saturday in which they outplayed the Blackhawks through two periods, only to falter in the third.
“The homestand, we needed more points than we ended up with, but before you put the points in the bank you’ve got to get your game going,” Todd McLellan said. “Until the third period against Chicago, I thought that we did a number of things well. Even in the third period, the battle was still there.
“But, the moral victories aren’t getting us anywhere. We made enough mistakes that a very good hockey club capitalized on it.”
The Sharks have won both games against Winnipeg this season, including the second game of the year on Oct. 11, 3-0 behind Alex Stalock, and a 3-2 win on Jan. 5 in which Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored with less than five seconds to go in regulation.
Each team will look a bit different than it did in that previous meeting. The Jets were without a number of their starting defensemen and have made a few trades since then, while the Sharks were competing without center Joe Thornton, who was out with a shoulder injury.
Dustin Byfuglien, now back on the blue line, and Tyler Myers, acquired from Buffalo, could both play against the Sharks per the CBC.
“The team that we’re going to see is different than the team that we played then. But, we played a smart game in their building. It’s a tough building to play in,” said Todd McLellan, whose team went 1-for-7 on the power play on Jan. 5.
Other than the final game of the year against Los Angeles, this is the Sharks' final head-to-head matchup against a team they are in direct competition with for a playoff spot.
“It’s either six points or two points. It’s huge,” Vlasic said of the point gap after Tuesday. “Now’s our chance to catch one of the teams.”
Matt Nieto said: “We know where they stand, we know where we stand. It’s going to be like a playoff game every game the rest of the year. Just got to make sure we’re ready to play on this road trip. We have to win.”