What fun we’re having in the drive toward the Stanley Cup playoffs!
It’s an exciting time of the year. There are 10 games remaining in the regular season, beginning with Monday night’s game at Calgary.
Here is a breakdown of what’s left: Mar. 24 at Calgary Mar. 25 at Edmonton Mar. 27 WINNIPEG Mar. 29 at Colorado Apr. 1 EDMONTON Apr. 3 LOS ANGELES Apr. 5 NASHVILLE Apr. 9 at Anaheim Apr. 11 COLORADO Apr. 13 at Phoenix
As of March 24, here is what that schedule brings: Games vs. Teams in Playoff Position: 5 (2 home, 3 away) Games vs. Teams out of Playoff Position: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Games vs. Pacific Division: 6 (2 home, 4 away) Record vs. Pacific Division: 14-6-2 (H: 9-2-1 A: 5-4-1) Games vs. Central Division: 4 (3 home, 1 away) Record vs. Central Division: 11-5-2 (H: 8-0-0 A: 3-5-2)
Top Scorers Facing Sharks in Final 10 Games: Calgary Jiri Hudler (15-31-46) Edmonton Taylor Hall (24-41-65) Winnipeg Blake Wheeler (24-35-59) Colorado Matt Duchene (22-45-67) Los Angeles Anze Kopitar (22-36-58) Nashville Shea Weber (18-28-46) Anaheim Ryan Getzlaf (29-47-76) Phoenix Keith Yandle (8-42-50)
Top Goaltenders Facing Sharks in Final 10 Games: Calgary Karri Ramo (12-10-4, 2.60) Edmonton Ben Scrivens (6-7-0, 2.67) Winnipeg Ondrej Pavelec (20-24-6, 2.97) Colorado Semyon Varlamov (34-14-5, 2.48) Los Angeles Jonathan Quick (23-15-2, 2.01) Nashville Pekka Rinne (6-9-1, 2.75) Anaheim Jonas Hiller (27-11-6, 2.40) Phoenix Mike Smith (27-21-10, 2.65)
The Sharks are poised to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. When they do, they will have a chance to be the only team in the National Hockey League that can say that.
There is one other team in the NHL that might have something to say about that. The Detroit Red Wings are in the heart of a tremendous battle within the Eastern Conference of the NHL, and for the first time in a long time, there is a real possibility that they could miss post-season action. With 12 games to play, Detroit is in the final playoff position in the East. Given the spirit with which they have been playing, I’m not betting against them.
The Sharks and the Red Wings have benefited from tremendous contributions from their coaching staffs to solve a variety of challenges. In Todd McLellan’s case, he and his staff have done a remarkable job in managing through several serious injuries to important players, have set up young players to succeed, including a handful who have spent most of the year in the American Hockey League and have also done amazing work in the area of ice time management to set things up for the final drive and the post-season.
While Detroits head coach Mike Babcock’s challenges have been distributed differently, it is clear that he and his staff have really excelled as well. These are two coaches who deserve some serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award, handed to the NHL’s Coach of the Year, along with a reasonably large pool of candidates who will be considered.
Over the last 9 years, the Sharks and the Red Wings are the only teams to qualify for every playoff year, and they have each advanced beyond the first round a League-high 7 times. Only Philadelphia (5 advancements) , Boston (4), NY Rangers (4), Pittsburgh (4), and Vancouver (4) have come close.
Now, since the 2003-04 season, when San Jose began its current run of qualifying for the post-season, there have been eight different Cup winners, with Chicago the only team to win twice. There have been nine different losing Finalists.
But, here is where it gets interesting. There have been only 5 teams to advance to the Conference Final or further a minimum of 3 times. Those teams are: Philadelphia (4 times), Pittsburgh (3), Chicago (3), Detroit (3), and San Jose (3).
I think that the Sharks see this year as a year of great challenge and tremendous opportunity. They have been prepared extraordinarily well by an outstanding coaching staff. They have built their depth, and have proved that they can handle adversity. As of this moment, they are in first place in their division, with a chance to capture that banner by the end of the season.
Now, all that remains is to play the final portion of the schedule, and get to professional sports’ ultimate playoff championship, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let the games begin! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com