The battle for the Pacific Division crown will be on center stage tonight as the San Jose Sharks (49-26-4, 102 points) head south for a key match up against their intrastate rivals the Anaheim Ducks (47-20-12, 106 points).
The Sharks currently occupy the fifth seed in the Western Conference, but are looking to leapfrog Anaheim and claim their third Pacific Division title in the last five seasons. The Sharks will return home immediate following tonight’s game and will face the Calgary Flames on Thursday at HP Pavilion, then will close out their regular season at home on Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Ducks are trying to fend off both the Sharks and the Dallas Stars (48-25-6, 102 points) to claim their first division title in franchise history. But with a slim four-point lead and three games to play, there is still some work to be done. After facing San Jose tonight, the Ducks will head to Dallas where they will play the Stars on Friday night, then will conclude their season on the road in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Although there are countless scenarios that place San Jose anywhere from the second seed all the way down to the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, one thing is certain. In order to extend their hopes of overtaking Anaheim, the Sharks must defeat the Ducks tonight in either regular or overtime. A loss in either regulation or overtime would end their chances of a division title.
“We’ve have three games left and they’re all big games,” said Sharks forward Patrick Rissmiller after the team’s morning skate in Anaheim. “We’re obviously trying to catch Anaheim. It may be a little bit difficult being four points back, but we want to win tonight for that reason.”
Rissmiller has posted three points in his past two games (2-1=3), but the Sharks continue to rely on Rissmiller and linemates Curtis Brown and Mike Grier for their strong defensive presence.
“Our job is to be sound defensively,” Rissmiller said. “We struggled there for a couple of weeks. We gave up some goals, so we want to be stronger defensively as a unit and keep the puck out of our net.”
Though Rissmiller remains committed to his defensive positioning and penalty killing, ironically the Sharks are undefeated in the seven games (7-0-0) in which the gritty left winger has tallied a goal.
“It’s a funny stat I guess,” said Rissmiller. “If I score and we win or if we just win, that’s all that matters really.”
Though the Sharks haven’t fared particularly well against the Ducks this season, posting a 2-5-0 record in head-to-head meetings, San Jose welcomes the opportunity for one more meeting between the two squads.
“Obviously it’s a huge division rivalry,” Brown said. “There’s positioning and jockeying and such in the division and the conference. It’s shaping up nice for the schedule makers. Looking at the past few games and at the standings, there is so much still up in the air. Nobody knows how the seeds are going to fall.
“Our focus is on this game. We want to continue to improve our game as a team and get to the best place we can for the playoffs. We still have a chance to win the division so we’re going to do whatever we can.”
ALL-STAR JERSEY AUCTION HELPS FIGHT CANCER
The NHL and the NHLPA announced today that the jerseys worn by Sharks All-Stars Patrick Marleau
, Joe Thornton
, Jonathan Cheechoo and Bill Guerin (then playing with the St. Louis Blues) during the first period of the 55th
NHL All-Star Game on January 24, 2007 will be available for bidding through NHL.com and NHLPA.com. The auction will launch on April 4 at 6:00 p.m. and end on April 18 at 9:00 p.m., with proceeds benefiting the “Hockey Fights Cancer” program.
Hockey Fights Cancer is a joint initiative founded in December 1998 by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association to raise money and awareness for hockey's most important fight. Hockey Fights Cancer is supported by NHL Member Clubs, NHL Alumni, the NHL Officials' Association, professional hockey trainers and equipment managers, corporate marketing partners, broadcast partners and fans throughout North America. To date, Hockey Fights Cancer has raised more than $9 million.