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Pacific Division teams in tight race for first

Competition between Ducks, Oilers, Sharks heating up entering final week of regular season

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

Four Pacific Division teams are separated by seven points with one week to go in the regular season.

Of the four division races in the NHL, the one for first place in the Pacific is the tightest.

The Anaheim Ducks, who have 99 points after their 4-3 win at the Calgary Flames on Sunday, are in first but the Edmonton Oilers (97) and San Jose Sharks (95) still can win the division, and the Flames (92) can finish as high as second.

"It shows there's a lot of parity in our division," Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "Over the course of the season, teams have gotten hot and cold. We're pretty hot (8-0-3 in the past 11 games) and Edmonton's been plugging along nicely (9-1-0 in the past 10). You look at your first-round matchup and it's going to be a hard matchup no matter what."

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All four teams have clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the season ended Monday, the Ducks would play the Flames, and the Oilers would face the Sharks in the Western Conference First Round.

But the season doesn't end Monday. There is a week to go and plenty can change. Here is a look at the final week in the Pacific Division:

* The Ducks have three games left, all at home, against the Flames on Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.

* The Oilers have four games remaining: at the Kings on Tuesday, at the Sharks on Thursday, at the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday and at home against the Canucks on Sunday. The Oilers and Ducks are tied in the first tiebreaker, regulation/overtime wins (ROW). The second tiebreaker, head-to-head play, goes to the Oilers, who went 3-1-0 in the four games that counted (since they played five times, the first of three games in Anaheim is disregarded).

* The Sharks played most of their game Sunday without forward Joe Thornton, who sustained an apparent knee injury. They have three games left, all at home: against the Canucks on Thursday, the Oilers on Thursday and the Flames on Saturday.

* The Flames are on the road for their final three games: at the Ducks on Tuesday, at the Kings on Thursday and at the Sharks on Saturday.

It will be a wild week of ups and downs, but Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said the key is focusing on the task at hand, not the daily change in the standings.

"It's a fun time of year, but if one team wins tonight it's not going to make a difference in two weeks, to be honest," Burns said before a game against the Oilers on Thursday. "Things are happening with each team, different things going on. It's probably better to win but at the end of the day, you want to get your game as good as possible and get everything going."

Oilers coach Todd McLellan was more direct.

"I've learned in the past that first place doesn't mean anything other than first place," he said. "Then the paper goes into the bin and you start all over again. So you can waste all your time and energy chasing the Presidents' Trophy and first place and all that type of stuff."

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McLellan said he's really got one thing in mind.

"Play well, play your game and improve as you go forward," he said. "There's not enough time to fix dramatic letdowns. So just play well and forget about first place … and it'll take care of itself."

Bieksa said though playoff berths aren't at stake, the final week provides teams a chance to set the tone for the postseason.

"I think you can definitely leave a little doubt in [an opponent's] minds if you have a solid, 60-minute game and don't give them a whole lot, and then all of a sudden they go into their pre-scout for the first round of the playoffs and they'll go, 'Oh boy, the last game we played them we didn't have anything,'" Bieksa said. "It can create a bit of doubt."

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf has the same mindset.

"I don't know if it's important [to finish first]," Getzlaf said. "It's just important to finish strong. These are teams we'll probably have to go through at some point to get to our goal. You never want to let them believe they can beat us.

"We just want to be playing our game, playing the right way."

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