The San Jose Sharks have once again reclaimed first place in the Pacific Division, exactly 30 days after being dethroned by one of the three other teams fighting to earn the Western Conference’s third seed.
Monday’s 5-1 win over a hot Colorado Avalanche team put San Jose just one point ahead of the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes, with the Los Angeles Kings one point behind them.
There are just two weeks left in the season and it is beginning to appear as though the Pacific Division champion might not be crowned until the final day of the season. The Sharks have underachieved for much of the year but are beginning to play with urgency as their playoff lives are in danger. Veteran players like forward Joe Thornton understand that there is still plenty of work to be done.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “We’ve got six games left, and we’ve got to win some games just to get into the playoffs. It’s great getting all the way up to third, but we still have to keep going and working hard every night.”
San Jose was pretty much written off by fans and media alike just ten days ago but now – with six games left to play – the Sharks have a 79.1 percent chance of earning a chance in Lord Stanley’s dance. A big part of their resurgence is thanks to their current three game winning streak – it’s the first time the team has done so since Jan. 24-Feb. 2. If the Sharks win on Wednesday and Thursday, the Coyotes will be all but eliminated from first place in the division.
The recent success of the Sharks has come in large part to the fourth – sometimes third due to increasing minutes – line of Andrew Desjardins, Tommy Wingels and Daniel Winnik, which has sparked the team and has recently earned more minutes than San Jose’s second line. But balance has proven to be the key as was proven Monday night at the HP Pavillion when each line had at least one goal.
Meanwhile in between the pipes, goaltender Antti Niemi has been streaky at best as of late. Though he has been good during the Sharks’ current win streak, he allowed four goals apiece in his two starts prior. Niemi has a history of being up-and-down just look back to 2010 when he led the Chicago Blackhawks to their first cup victory since 1961 in one of the worst goaltender matchups ever in the Stanley Cup Finals. This season he has managed to post a 31-20-9 record and his 2.44 goals-against average is 19th in the league.
It’s anyone’s guess who will wind up winning the Pacific Division in what looks like it will be one of the closest finishes in recent memory but it will certainly be entertaining! Who knows, with all of the good Sharks teams in recent years, maybe this one is the one to squeak into the playoffs, get hot at the right time and go deep in their quest for the cup.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS