Programming note: Sharks-Ducks coverage starts Thursday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – It’s game 71 on the schedule, but there’s no escaping the notion that Thursday’s Sharks-Ducks game at SAP Center is the biggest of the season so far for the home team.
Right, Joe Thornton?
“I’d say so. It’s a game for first place in our [division], and it will be an exciting game.”
“Everybody is aware of where we are and where Anaheim is,” the captain continued. “Twelve games left, so tomorrow is the biggest game of the year so far.”
The teams are tied at the top of the Pacific with 97 points apiece, but Anaheim is still technically in first place, having played one fewer game. The Ducks would almost certainly own the first tiebreaker if the teams ended up tied at the end of the season, with eight more regulation/overtime wins than the Sharks. The Sharks will have to beat them outright in points to claim the division title.
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Thursday’s game will be the first of two remaining head-to-head meetings, with the finale on April 9 in Southern California, the 80th of 82 games for both teams. It’s the first time they’ll have seen one another since New Year’s Eve in the back-end of a home-and-home at Honda Center.
“It’s a big game for both of us. We want to set the tone against them because we do play them again at the end of the year,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan was as angry as he’s been all season after his club dropped a 6-3 game to the Ducks on Dec. 31. The Sharks played well for the first half of the first period, but their game quickly unraveled in the second, a frame that Logan Couture called their worst of the season to that point. The final score made the game appear closer than it actually was, and the defeat came just two days after San Jose earned a 3-1 home win over the Ducks.
The coach asked the team to take an honest look at their game and what they bring to the team as individuals. He reflected upon that moment on Wednesday.
“It was a wake up call for some to get them to realize that it’s just not coming to the rink every day and you get to keep your job,” McLellan said. “It was a challenge to certain individuals to figure out what you do and how you can apply that trait on a daily basis, and have an impact on the game.
“Some of them figured it out better than others, some are still trying to do it, but I do believe we’re a better team because of that loss. Where it takes us from here, it’s up to the group in there to decide and make sure we’re still pushing forward in a positive way.”
The Sharks and Ducks enter Thursday’s game coming off of disappointing losses. Washington, which visits San Jose on Saturday, squeaked out a 3-2 win over Anaheim on Tuesday, while the Sharks lost to the lowly Florida Panthers by the same margin.
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for either side.
“They lost last game, we lost last game. I think both teams really can’t afford to lose two in a row,” Thornton said. “They’ve got a real good team, we’ve got a real good team, so we’ll see who’s the better team tomorrow.”