Dagger Seen Before Them
Yours truly has already been on record for a couple weeks saying the Sharks are not making the playoffs. Admittedly nail in the coffin cliches were premature at that time but these days the Sharks genuinely don’t have many outs to play with. While a recent four of five game winning stretch had kept their chances somewhat realistic to make the playoffs, Saturday’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks has put them in essentially a must win scenario tonight.
San Jose is in Winnipeg this evening to take on the Jets, a team whom which they trail by four points for the final Wild Card spot. With 13 games left to play entering Tuesday, many experts have pinpointed the Sharks needing 19 points or a 9-3-1 record to qualify for the postseason. A regulation loss and negative four point swing to fall six points back of the Jets with 12 to play would basically seel a losing fate in the Wild Card race.
As for the division, if the Sharks lose tonight in regulation they could get help from the St. Louis Blues beating the Calgary Flames. However, even if that happens, the Sharks would still be five points behind the Flames. Not to mention, in both playoff avenues the Sharks also need to surpass the Los Angeles Kings as well, making it even tougher to overcome either route to the postseason.
Two or three points back with 12 games to go is not an insurmountable task. Five or six points back with just a dozen to play though is much more sinking than treading water. The good news for Sharks fans is Team Teal has won both previous contests against the Jets this season. A caveat though is that they were actually outplayed for two thirds of the game back in October and the game in January came while the Jets were dealing with nearly half their lineup on IR.
Now both San Jose and Winnipeg are .500 in their past 10 games, the Sharks at 5-5 and the Jets at 4-4-2. Chances are these teams will remain around this same level of success. Therefore, the Sharks cannot afford a regulation loss in this head-to-head game. With a regulation loss tonight, even with a 7-3-2 mark in their final 12 games, the Sharks would need the Jets to finish 4-6-2 just to end up tied in points (San Jose would own the ROW tie breaker). But as mentioned above that still doesn’t even take into consideration what either the Flames and Kings do down the stretch. And after tonight, the Sharks don’t play a single game against either Winnipeg, Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, nor Los Angeles until game 82 against the Kings. In other words this is the last direct chance to make up ground before the final day of the season.
It would be easy to look at the schedules and see the Jets have tough games down the final half dozen and the Sharks have weaker teams on their final stretch. San Jose though has done much better this year against playoff teams than bottom feeders. This head-to-head matchup tonight really is a difference maker in the playoff race if it ends in regulation. Sharks win and things remain close, if the Jets win they can pretty much hammer in the final nail of the Sharks’ coffin.