A late-season surge has given the San Jose Sharks a shot at their second division title in three years.
In their final game before the playoffs, the Sharks look to take over the Pacific Division lead and extend their win streak to a season-high six games when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
San Jose (51-26-4) stayed alive in the division race when first-place Anaheim lost 2-1 in a shootout to Dallas on Friday. With a win on Saturday, the Sharks would reclaim the top spot from the Ducks, who would then need to win their regular-season finale at Columbus later on Saturday to capture the title.
The Sharks would move into a tie for the division lead with an overtime or shootout loss, but they own the tiebreaker over Anaheim because they will finish the season with more wins. Anaheim would need just one point in their Saturday finale to clinch the division if San Jose gets only one point in this game.
A Sharks’ regulation loss on Saturday, however, would clinch the Pacific for Anaheim outright.
Winning the division could earn the Sharks a playoff seed as high as No. 2, while placing second in the Pacific could result in a spot as low as the No. 6 seed.
San Jose’s strong play in March and April has kept alive its division title hopes. The Sharks have won 11 of their last 13 games to set a franchise record with 51 victories, the most by any team in the Western Conference.
The Sharks notched their second five-game winning streak of the season with a 4-3 victory over Calgary on Thursday. With the playoffs around the corner and the intensity building, San Jose built a three-goal lead early in the third period and survived a late rally from Calgary, which is fighting to clinch the eighth seed in the West.
“We came out on top when it came to physicality,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “That’s the type of game I want our young guys to experience right now. If we want to win the Cup, those are the type of games to expect in the Western Conference.”
Vancouver (48-25-7), meanwhile, are one win away from wrapping up the Northwest Division title and the No. 3 seed in the West. Even if they lose Saturday, the Canucks would clinch the division crown if second-place Minnesota - one point back - loses its regular-season finale to St. Louis later on Saturday.
Vancouver also has a game in hand on the Wild and will close its regular season at Phoenix on Sunday.
The Canucks blew their first shot to clinch the division on Thursday, falling 3-1 at home to Colorado for its second loss in three games following a 6-0-1 stretch.
“It was a disappointing effort to finish the regular season at home with a pretty bad note,” said goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 27 saves. “We’re not very happy with ourselves the way we played.”
The Canucks, though, have just three regulation losses in their last 21 road games. They’ve held the opposition to two goals or fewer in all but four games during that stretch, and are among the league leaders this season with 191 goals allowed overall.
The Sharks are one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams with 253 goals this season, led by the playmaking of Joe Thornton.
The All-Star forward recorded his league-leading 89th and 90th assists Thursday, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the only players in NHL history with back-to-back 90-assist seasons.
“I have had a lot of good players to pass the puck to, that is all that means,” Thornton said. “Just playing with good players. Giving it to Cheech (Jonathan Cheechoo) and to Milan (Michalek) and other guys.”
Vancouver is 2-1-0 versus San Jose this season. Henrik Sedin scored a breakaway goal with 1:30 left in overtime to give the Canucks a 2-1 win in the last meeting on March 9.