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Duck Hunting

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks secured their 2007 Stanley Cup Playoff berth in Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Kings. With five games left in the regular season, one would understand if the team turned on the cruise control to ride out the final two weeks. But these Sharks have a more lofty goal.
San Jose’s top priority is catching Anaheim and the organization’s third Pacific Division title, which would also come with a top-three seeding and home ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.
“It is definitely a short term goal,” said rookie forward Joe Pavelski, who has been nursing a sore foot as of late but played against the Kings. “The Ducks are in range, but they are playing well so it definitely gives us something to shoot for.”
Shooting for and catching the Ducks are two different things, but the Sharks hope the odds are in their favor. Anaheim has six games left-five of which are on the road- including one tonight at Chicago and another tomorrow night at Columbus. 
San Jose will finish the season with four of five in the friendly confines of HP Pavilion. The Sharks only road contest remaining is April 4 at Anaheim.
The Sharks and Ducks have an equal amount of games remaining against teams with .500 records or better.  Both have three.  The Ducks will face St. Louis (March 31), San Jose (April 4), and Dallas (April 6), while the Sharks must face Anaheim (April 4), Calgary (April 5) and Vancouver (April 7).
One cannot overlook the Dallas Stars who sit at 98 points, the same as the Sharks, but with a game in hand.  The Stars will also face three more opponents with .500 records or better, in Detroit (March 30), St. Louis (April 2), and Anaheim (April 6).
“Finishing first in the division will put us on a pretty good roll entering the playoffs,” added Pavelski. “That is a big thing; you want to be coming in playing your best, not coming off a few losses and having to turn it on.”
Pavelski played just over 40 games each season in his two years at the University of Wisconsin. Assuming he finishes the season in the lineup, he will appear in 48 games in his first full NHL campaign.  Pavelski began the season in Worcester, the Sharks top development affiliate in the AHL, where he played 16 games before he was called up.
“We are at the stage where it is a long season for me, but I am energized by the playoffs,” said Pavelski. “It is exciting and this is the time of year where the experience of having played in big playoff games at Wisconsin and in juniors will help.
“I am looking forward to the playoffs and the atmosphere in HP Pavilion, I heard it can get pretty crazy,” added Pavelski.
“We would like to catch Anaheim and if we win the rest of our games we have a really good shot at doing that. By the time we play them next week, it could be for all the marbles,” said rookie defenseman Marc-Edourd Vlasic. “They have played well against us this season, but we know if we come out, play our game and dictate the pace, we can be very successful. We will be ready for them. That game will be a big test, but fate is in our hands if we can win our last five games.
“I played over 100 games last year, and a lot of minutes so I am used to it and feel great.” “The excitement of the playoffs alone can get you going. Last year, in Quebec, we had crowds of over 16,000 and you can feed off that energy which I am sure we will do at HP.”
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