SAN JOSE – As we predicted midway through February, the San Jose Sharks are going to be battling with the Calgary Flames for first place in the division right down to the wire. Heading into the fourth and final game of their current homestand, San Jose sits on the cusp of taking over the top seed, just one point behind Calgary in the standings.
So, of course, there's one question on everyone's minds: Who might the Sharks face in the first round of the playoffs?
As many already know, the Vegas Golden Knights are the likely opponent should San Jose remain in second place. While the Vegas squad has lost some of its oomph in its sophomore season, they've held on to that third place spot in the rankings for the latter portion of the regular season.
San Jose has battled Vegas with mixed results this season, including a 6-0 shutout loss on November 24 and an emotional 3-2 victory on January 10. Both games took place at T-Mobile Arena, which has quickly gained a reputation for being a tough building for visiting teams to compete in.
The Golden Knights play the Sharks tough, and to top it off, Marc-Andre Fleury is the winningest netminder in the league this season. But again, this isn't the same Golden Knights team that steamrolled everyone in their inaugural season, and the Sharks are certainly a more stacked team than they were last year -- especially when they're healthy.
Long story short: An opening series against the Golden Knights would be a winnable series for the Sharks, but challenging nonetheless.
But things could be different if the Sharks take first place in the Pacific division. If the playoffs started today, the top team in the Pacific would match up against the Wild in Round 1. Minnesota has gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 contests, including a 3-0 shutout of the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sharks have taken the first two games of their season series with the Wild, outscoring Minnesota 8-3 in those games combined.
In addition to being a change of pace from the teams San Jose has squared off against in the playoffs in recent years, a series against Minnesota would definitely be interesting -- if not also one the Sharks could take control of.
But things don't stop with Minnesota. Should the Sharks take first place in the standings, the teams still in the hunt for a playoff berth shouldn't be ignored. The Coyotes, who currently sit three points out of a wild-card spot, have gone 8-2-0 in their last 10, including a 2-0 shutout of the Flames that helped the Sharks make up ground in the standings. The Colorado Avalanche are only four points out of a wild-card spot, and while they just received news they'll be without Gabriel Landeskog for about a month, this is the team that squeaked into the playoffs last season. The Edmonton Oilers are seven points out of a wild-card spot, but riding a winning streak that could potentially boost them into competition with Arizona, should Colorado falter.
With San Jose playing their next game on Saturday and Calgary not playing again until Sunday, the standings could shift within the next 48 hours. With just 15 games left in the season, it's going to be a wild race to the finish to see who the Sharks will face off against in the first round of this year's playoffs.