The San Jose Sharks can still realistically finish as high as second in the Western Conference, but that’s not completely in their control.
Their fate in the Pacific Division certainly is.
Riding a four-game winning streak and with a three-point cushion atop the Pacific, the Sharks play their final eight games against division rivals beginning with Thursday night’s stop at Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Kings.
San Jose (43-23-8) saw its six-point division lead on March 3 shrink to three after a 1-2-2 stretch, but it’s starting to hit its stride once again.
Though the division lead remains at three over Phoenix, the Sharks are starting to make up ground on second-place Detroit. San Jose, which trailed the Red Wings by four points and had played one more game through March 14, is now just one point back and has played an equal number of games as Detroit.
But while the Sharks won’t get another head-to-head crack at the Central Division leaders, they can pull away from rest of the Pacific - or leave themselves rather vulnerable - over the season’s final weeks. Wednesday’s 6-3 win over Calgary was San Jose’s last non-division contest.
“It’s great to have everybody contribute,” Marleau said. “We’ll need more of that coming down the stretch. It’s the way we’re built and it’s the way things should happen. Everybody should have fun scoring goals.”
Finishing up against the division should work in the Sharks’ favor. They’re 9-3-4 versus Pacific foes.
The Kings (41-26-6) haven’t faced San Jose since Jan. 26 - when they improved to 2-2-0 in the season series with a shootout victory - but coach Terry Murray has seen enough to know San Jose is clicking when it counts.
“They seem to be coming to their time right now, where it is their opportunity to put it all together,” Murray told the Kings’ official website. “They’ve got a lot of experience, world-class players, a top line, a good back end, and they’re just making the big push and they know how to do it right now.”
San Jose isn’t the only team coming in off a win against the Flames. Los Angeles defeated Calgary 2-1 in a shootout Monday after opening a five-game homestand with losses to St. Louis and Anaheim.
The Kings are in a three-way tie for fifth place with Chicago and Nashville - one point ahead of Anaheim, two in front of Dallas and three more than Calgary.
“Every point we get, whether it’s one point or two points, it helps build a resume to make the playoffs,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick(notes), who improved to 8-0 in shootouts. “We’re just trying to get two points every time we’re out. We got two points and that’s all that matters.”
The loss of Williams, who has 22 goals and 35 assists, could hurt an offense that’s already struggling. Los Angeles has totaled 20 goals in 10 games this month, and leading scorer Anze Kopitar(notes) has had a hand in more than half of those.
The Sharks have scored with the man advantage in eight straight games (9 for 27), though they’ve also given up eight power-play goals during that stretch.