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Friday At The Rink

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
There’s no doubt that San Jose Sharks fans will find a way to watch all, if not some, of tonight’s game in Dallas between the Stars and the Anaheim Ducks. Simply stated, a Ducks win means they clinch the Pacific Division title.
As play begins today, the Sharks are a point behind the Ducks for first place in the Pacific and potential home ice advantage to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dallas trails the Sharks by three points and can only hope for a fifth place finish in the Western Division as they start the day in sixth place.
Of course, Sharks players will have more than a passing interest in this evening’s events. However, not everyone will be watching the game closely.
“Are they playing tonight,” defenseman Kyle McLaren asked with a smile. “To be honest with you, no. I’ll be checking the updates and see who’s winning and losing. But as for watching it, I’m going to get my rest for tomorrow (the final regular season game against Vancouver at HP Pavilion).”
“I’ll be definitely keeping an eye on it,” defenseman Scott Hannan said.
 “I watch hockey all the time,” center Joe Thornton said. “I usually turn on the TV around four o’clock and watch a couple of the East Coast games and then some West Coast. So, I’m always watching the games.
“I just like hockey,” Thornton continued. “It’s good to see different players from around the League.”
“I’m sure I’ll keep an eye on the score, but I probably won’t be watching it too closely. I’m sure it will be an interesting game,” left wing Ryane Clowe said. “When I’m away from the rink, I stay away a little bit from hockey.”
Tonight’s game is just part of what has been one of the most exciting finishes in National Hockey League history. The Western Conference features seven teams with more than 100 points. If Calgary wins their next two games, they would become the eighth team to hit the century mark.
Only Western Conference-leading Detroit has clinched their division (Central) title. Vancouver needs to win one of their next two games to be Northwest Division Champions. And then there’s the two-way race between Anaheim and the Sharks for Pacific Division supremacy.
The next three days will be very interesting ones in the NHL.
“Often, you don’t see this excitement towards the end of the year,” Hannan said. “Teams are playing against the teams that could make a difference in whether or not they make the playoffs or how they seed. This has been a tight race for quite awhile.”
The numerous season-ending options can drive any fan, even the most die-hard, crazy. Don’t think that these possibilities haven’t caught the attention of the Sharks. They just can’t dwell on them as much as the fans.
“You really have no idea who you’re going to play (to start the playoffs),” Thornton said. “The only teams we can’t play are Detroit and Calgary (currently in eighth place). You have a ton of playoff possibilities. You look at them, but you don’t really pay attention to them.”
“We definitely want certain teams to win right now. That goes without saying,” McLaren said. “But we’ve been taking care of business at home and on the road. I’d rather be in the position we’re in, which is we’ve locked up a spot. We’re not worried about just trying to make the playoffs. We’re trying to go for bigger and better things.”
The Sharks have played 13 games in a 26-day period that started March 11. Over that stretch, San Jose has won 11, lost one in regulation and one in overtime. The hectic schedule has helped San Jose stay focused on their play, as opposed to wondering how other teams are playing.
“We’ve been playing every other night for the last couple of weeks,” McLaren said. “Our focus has been on our own game. We don’t have time to see what other teams are doing. We worry about ourselves.”
“It’s good that we’re playing this kind of hockey right now,” Thornton said. “It gets us used to playoff hockey and a playoff atmosphere as well.”
The Vancouver Canucks come to San Jose for the Sharks last 2006-07 regular season game. The Canucks (48-25-7, 103 points) lead the Northwest Division and are third in the Western Conference.
The infamous Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, are amongst the NHL’s top-25 scoring leaders. Daniel has a career high 83 points and 36 goals. Henrik’s 70 assists and 80 points are personal NHL bests as well.
Roberto Luongo, who’s a strong candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, is the first Canuck goaltender to have won 40 (46) games in a season. He’s been a big reason why the Canucks penalty kill is atop the NHL at .875.
Tomorrow’s game, which starts at 1 p.m., is also Fan Appreciation Day.
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