Programming note: Sharks-Ducks coverage begins tonight at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network (Territory restrictions apply)
ANAHEIM – The importance of gaining two points on Anaheim on Wednesday night isn’t lost on the Sharks, who know that they’ll have to win in order to stay in the race for the Pacific Division. A loss would ensure a first round matchup with the Kings, and prevent them from having home ice advantage in a potential second round meeting with Anaheim.
Just three games are left in the regular season, though, and it may be equally important for the club to get things together headed into their first postseason game. That could be as soon as one week, when the NHL playoffs begin on April 16.
[RELATED: Sharks still fighting for division vs. Ducks]
San Jose is playing for the first time since Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Nashville. Since beating the Ducks on March 20, the Sharks are a pedestrian 3-3-2.
“I think our game has to start coming together. That’s what all coaches are saying at this time of year, but I really believe that with our team,” Todd McLellan said on Wednesday morning at Honda Center. “It’s been awhile since we’ve put that complete game together. The warm-ups, if you will, for playoffs, are running out on us quickly. I’d like to see us put a real good game together.”
Conversely, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he’d be fine with an ugly win.
“All the coaches lie and say it’s about how we’re playing down the stretch, but I would venture to guess they all know what’s on the line tonight. You don’t play seven months and not want to be the best. Play a game of Monopoly with these players and they’ll cheat to win,” he said.
“It’s in our blood that you want them playing their best, but at the same time, if you play your worst and you win, you’re going to be happy in the room tonight.”
It shouldn’t be difficult for the Sharks to be emotionally prepared against Anaheim, which would have just a one-point lead on San Jose if it loses in regulation. The Sharks should be well rested and energized, too, coming off of their only post-Olympic three-day break in the schedule.
The Ducks, on the other hand, will be playing their third game in four nights.
“I don’t think you treat it just like any other game,” Justin Braun said. “We’ve got three more left before playoffs. You have to have that playoff mentality, going hard every shift.”
Joe Thornton said: “I think the guys were excited coming to the rink this morning. It’s a big game.”
It was Thornton who set the tone with his physical play last Thursday in a 2-1 win over the Kings. Although he didn’t factor in the scoring, several players indicated after the game that seeing the captain play that hard-hitting style helped to energize the bench.
Might he do the same against Anaheim, in the biggest game of the season?
“You just try to play hard against these top end teams, just come out and throw your body around and get a couple bangs early to get you in the game,” Thornton said, essentially downplaying the suggestion.
McLellan would surely welcome a re-appearance of Angry Joe.
“I’d like to see him play his game. His game is having the puck, using his size, and leading the team. Everybody else seems to follow,” McLellan said. “They have players like that on their squad, too. They have the [Ryan] Getzlafs, and those types of players that are going to elevate their game. It creates for a real good match.
“Leaders in these situations are to lead. That’s why they’re in the role.”
The Sharks are 7-1 against teams in playoff position after the Olympic break. All season long, they’ve seemed to play their best hockey in games against the better NHL clubs, of which Anaheim certainly qualifies.
“I think tonight’s game pits two teams that are obviously fighting for the division, but also trying to sharpen up their games. It should bring the best out in both teams,” McLellan said. “I’m glad that we’re playing this type of game right now.”