Play­off seed­ing will be big for Sharks

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Cur­tis Pashelka

SAN JOSE — Hav­ing one or both might be crit­i­cally im­por­tant for the Sharks this sea­son if they want to re­turn to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal for the sec­ond time in four years.

The red-hot Sharks en­tered Wed­nes­day in third place in the Pa­cific with 57 points, one point back of both the Cal­gary Flames and the Ve­gas Golden Knights, teams that have been on an equally tor­rid pace.

It makes sense, then, that the best way for the Sharks to get back to a Cup fi­nal would be to win the divi­sion, play a wild card team in the first round, and avoid fac­ing both Cal­gary and Ve­gas just to reach the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal.

The Sharks, who have fin­ished third in the divi­sion in three straight years, play Ve­gas at T-Mo­bile Arena on Thurs­day.

“I think seed­ing is go­ing to be im­por­tant this year with our divi­sion,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said Wed­nes­day.

“I think that’s go­ing to be a piece, es­pe­cially with the dropoff when you look at the three teams and the po­ten­tial wild card teams. That doesn’t mean there’s go­ing to be any easy rounds. But that is a piece and that has to mo­ti­vate you go­ing for­ward.”

The Sharks are in the midst of their best stretch of the sea­son as their 13-3-2 record since Dec. 2 has put them 12 points up the fourth place team in the Pa­cific, the Ana­heim Ducks, with 37 reg­u­lar sea­son games to go.

Still, when cen­ter Lo­gan Cou­ture glanced at the NHL stand­ings Tues­day night after the Sharks’ win over the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers, he no­ticed some­thing a bit unique.

Three of the four teams at the top of the NHL ta­ble were from the Pa­cific Divi­sion, although Wash­ing­ton, Toronto and Win­nipeg had a bet­ter points per­cent­age with 56 points in 42 games,

“It just shows how com­pet­i­tive this divi­sion is right now, and no one seems to lose,” Cou­ture said, “es­pe­cially the top teams.”

Even if the Sharks win the divi­sion and get past the first round, they’ll still likely have to face ei­ther Cal­gary or Ve­gas in the sec­ond round.

The Sharks are 1-1 against the Flames this sea­son, and have gen­er­ally been suc­cess­ful at the Sad­dle­dome in Cal­gary in re­cent years, their 8-5 loss on Dec. 31 not with­stand­ing. T-Mo­bile Arena just off the Las Ve­gas Strip, though, has not been as wel­com­ing a des­ti­na­tion.

In­clud­ing their sec­ond round play­off meet­ing with Ve­gas last sea­son, the Sharks are 1-4-1 all-time at T-Mo­bile Arena.

In their one visit there this sea­son, on Nov. 24, the Sharks were smoked 6-0, fall­ing be­hind 14 sec­onds into the first pe­riod and trail­ing 4-0 after 16:28.

If you’re go­ing to try and set a tone in ad­vance of a po­ten­tial play­off meet­ing and come up with a blue­print for how win games in that rau­cous en­vi­ron­ment, might as well start right now. The Golden Knights, by the way, have won seven straight games.

“It’s a big game after what hap­pened last year in the play­offs and ear­lier this sea­son when they took it to us,” Cou­ture said. “That game was over after the first 10 min­utes or so. Look­ing for a bet­ter ef­fort. We’re play­ing hockey at this point of the sea­son, but they prob­a­bly are as well.

“They’re as hot as any­one in the league right now.”

The Sharks’ one vic­tory in Las Ve­gas came in Game 2 of that play­off se­ries, as Cou­ture scored a power play goal off a nifty pass from Kevin La­banc at the 5:13 mark of the sec­ond over­time to give his team a 4-3 vic­tory to level the se­ries at one win apiece.

Ve­gas would go on to win the se­ries four games to two, as the Sharks gave up home ice ad­van­tage and never got it back.

“We have the abil­ity to go in there and win games, and we know that,” DeBoer said. “For what­ever rea­son we haven’t brought our A-game, or we’ve self de­struc­ted at dif­fer­ent point in games in there.

“Whether it’s be­cause of the en­vi­ron­ment or what, we’re go­ing to have to get used to that. You’re go­ing to have to win some games in that build­ing go­ing for­ward. Not just this year, but they’re not go­ing away.”

On the mend — In­jured de­fense­men Marc-Edouard Vla­sic (up­per body) and Justin Braun (lower body) joined Ja­cob Mid­dle­ton and Rourke Chartier as the only Sharks play­ers on the ice Wed­nes­day morn­ing be­fore the Sharks flew to Las Ve­gas.

DeBoer said early Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon that he thought both play­ers would be doubt­ful for Thurs­day’s game, but didn’t how ei­ther player would re­act to their skate.

“The skat­ing and ev­ery­thing feels good, but (you) worry about the con­tact and that next bat­tle level,” Braun said. “Just be­ing a lit­tle cau­tions right now. I’m get­ting close to be­ing ready to go.

“The boys are rolling right now, so if they can keep that go­ing, it gives me more time to get back to 100 per­cent.”

On the mend, Part II — DeBoer said he was feel­ing much bet­ter Wed­nes­day than he was the day be­fore when he was suf­fer­ing from con­cus­sion-like symp­toms and had to miss the game against the Oil­ers. DeBoer was struck in the tem­ple by a puck while he was be­hind the bench for the Sharks’ game against Los An­ge­les on Mon­day. He said he didn’t think any­thing of it at the time be­fore he went to bed.

“Got up the next morn­ing, came into the rink here and didn’t feel good,” DeBoer said. “I thought it was the flu com­ing on, I didn’t think it had any­thing to do with (get­ting hit in the head). Then as we got closer to game time, started to get a few more symp­toms. It was def­i­nitely con­nected, but feel bet­ter to­day.”

“Safe to say I had a con­cus­sion. I’m out of pro­to­col, though, My wife put me in the dark room.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.