Sharks' path to playoffs runs through Dallas

Sharks' path to playoffs runs through Dallas
March 29, 2012, 2:59 pm
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It is a staple of current orthodox thinking that the Sharks playoff battle will go until the final game of the season, next Saturday against Los Angeles.

Well, theyd better hope it doesnt. As Dean Wormer told Flounder in Animal House (dated reference, sorry), having to beat Jonathan Quick twice in a row is no way go through life, son.

Frankly, San Joses best chance is to put the stake in someones heart now, because they are not entirely trustworthy in those must-win games against Pacific Division opponents.

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No, their ticket to ride is to steal a game in Phoenix tonight, and then box Dallas twice, Saturday and Tuesday. It wont help them momentum-wise, because clinching early and then cruising takes the edge off a team that desperately needs all the edge it can get.

But thats a chance the Sharks would have to take, because the Kings are a tougher defensive team than either Phoenix or Dallas, and can take a team that scores only fitfully and shut them down entirely.

Phoenix hit a wall in March, going 4-6-4, but it is the toughest out of the Sharks final three opponents (3-1 against San Jose), and they benefit from the return of their captain Shane Doan, whose suspension for sharing recipes with Dallas Jamie Benn is up.

But sweeping Dallas is the dagger the Sharks need to display. They are 3-1 against the Stars, but thats not the point. Dallas finishes with Nashville and St. Louis, who are both better than any Pacific Division team, and it would be most difficult for them to overcome a sweep.

By now, a little thing can become a big one, but the greater truth is that the standings tell you who you are, and San Jose is an average offensive team that hates momentum. Their longest win streak, five games, was in games five through nine of the season; they are team who excels when scoring first, yet they are one of the worst first-period teams in the league. They have spent the last two months losing game after game to non-playoff contenders.

They have, in short, richly earned their discomfort, and we are loath to point out the easiest way out for them. They deserve to have to grind all the way until Day 154.

But these are the facts. They have a better chance of taking Dallas out of the postseason five days before seasons end than either Los Angeles or Phoenix, and in a race where there are four contenders for three spots, you kill the weakest link, or you become the weakest link.

In other words, if theyre not safe at home and dry before Saturday, they arent going to be. And they wont deserve to be.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com