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Pacific Division teams keep one eye on the scoreboard

by Curtis Zupke
ANAHEIM, Calif. – There are times when San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle can't help but catch a glimpse of the scoreboard during intermission.

Sometimes it's on the arena's out-of-town board just before he heads to the locker room. Maybe it's on the crawl on the bottom of a television screen. Word spreads quickly in this information age.

"I think you do," Boyle said of catching a glimpse at the scoreboard during Sharks' games. "I think it's natural. You do. But most of the teams that are right behind are us are playing each other, so it's a lose-lose. Somebody's going to get two (points), and we've got to take care of our business."

Pacific Division race down to the wire

Here's a look at all the positional changes the Pacific Division has experienced in March.

MARCH 1:  PHX, SJ (7th), DAL (8th), LA (10th)
MARCH 2:  PHX, DAL (7), SJ (8), LA (10)
MARCH 3:  PHX, DAL (7), SJ (8), LA (9)
MARCH 4:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (8), LA (10)
MARCH 5:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (8), LA (10)
MARCH 6:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (10)
MARCH 7:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (10)
MARCH 8:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (8), LA (10)
MARCH 9:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (8), LA (11)
MARCH 10:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (11)
MARCH 11:  DAL, PHX (7), LA (10), SJ (11)
MARCH 12:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (11)
MARCH 13:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (11)
MARCH 14:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (11)
MARCH 15:  DAL, PHX (8), SJ (9), LA (11)
MARCH 16:  DAL, PHX (8), SJ (9), LA (10)
MARCH 17:  DAL, SJ (8), LA (9), PHX (10)
MARCH 18:  DAL, PHX (8), SJ (9), LA (10)
MARCH 19:  DAL, PHX (8), SJ (9), LA (10)
MARCH 20:  DAL, LA (8), PHX (9), SJ (10)
MARCH 21:  DAL, LA (8), PHX (9), SJ (10)
MARCH 22:  LA, PHX (7), DAL (8), SJ (10)
MARCH 23:  LA, PHX (7), DAL (8), SJ (10)
MARCH 24:  DAL, PHX (7), SJ (9), LA (10)
MARCH 25:  DAL, PHX (7), LA (8), SJ (9)
MARCH 26:  SJ, DAL (7), PHX (8), LA (9)
MARCH 27:  SJ, DAL (7), PHX (8), LA (9)
MARCH 28:  DAL, LA (7), SJ (8), PHX (9)
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell couldn't help but glance at the scoreboard after a March 20 game against San Jose and notice that there were two three-point games involving Pacific Division teams that night.

"I heard about it, actually at the end of the second period," Mitchell said. While he offered up the standard lines about worrying about what you can control, he also admitted that, "I won't lie. I'll still take a peek."

He's not the only one. The Pacific Division race is perhaps of the wildest in the post-lockout era. Four of the five teams have held first place at some point during the past month, and the standings get reshuffled so dramatically on a nightly basis that you practically needs an abacus to determine where the pieces land.

"Every year it seems like it's getting crazier, but it's tough to get tighter than this year," San Jose's Ryane Clowe said. "We've got four teams in our division that are all switching spots every night."

L.A. won that March 20 game against San Jose and two days later defeated the League-leading St. Louis Blues. Its reward? A date with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, whose 4-2 victory dropped the Kings from first to second to third -- all within seven hours.

By Tuesday morning Los Angeles was out of the top eight in the West altogether following a 1-0 loss to Vancouver.

Dallas completed a 10-0-1 run on March 13 that gave the Stars a four-point division lead with 12 games to play. Then they lost three of four to trigger a roller-coaster ride: The Stars went from eighth in the West to third to seventh within four nights.

That included a March 20 victory against Phoenix in a matchup to determine first place. Dallas prevailed 4-3 in a shootout -- but two nights later the Stars got dropped to eighth in the West.

The Coyotes? They went from possibly being in first in the division to out of the playoff picture at ninth even though they picked up a point in a shootout.

Talk about little margin for error. Many teams describe these critical, late-season games as playoff games, but Pacific games really do take on that intensity.

"These are games that define careers," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic.

"How players play in tense games and pressure-packed games are the way a lot of players define what kind of player that they had become and what kind of legacy they leave. These are fun games."

San Jose got back into first place Monday night for the first time in 30 days and was still there going into Wednesday night's game at Anaheim. But a loss to the Ducks along with a Dallas victory sent the Sharks tumbling back down to eighth.

"It's an interesting one," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "You can start in eighth and end up in third and vice versa. Right now we're riding the positive wave, but -- you used the words -- how quickly it can turn."

Even those outside the race appreciate the almost-comical shuffling of the standings in the Pacific.

"It's always so tight in the Western Conference, and this year with the Pacific race, all those teams are hitting their stride at the right time and it's making for an interesting finish," said Anaheim goaltender Dan Ellis, whose team is out of the race but has games against the Sharks and Coyotes this week.

All signs point to nothing being decided until April 7, the final day of the regular season, when all 30 clubs are in action and a team could end up with home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs -- or early tee times.

San Jose will finish a home-and-home series against Los Angeles that date. Will it come down to that finale in HP Pavilion?

"I hope not," Boyle said. "But, yeah, we're playing Dallas and L.A. (twice in the final four games). That's eight points right there. It's going to be huge."

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