San Jose Sharks: Analyzing the Western Conference Playoff Picture

Scott SemmlerAnalyst IIApril 19, 2013

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 30:  Goalkeeper Antti Niemi #31, Brent Burns #88 and Brad Stuart #7 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate after they defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in an overtime shoot-out at HP Pavilion on March 30, 2013 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

A season that includes two seven-game winning streaks and a seven-game losing streak makes for a pretty up and down year, but the San Jose Sharks are currently riding high as the lockout-shortened season enters its final stretch of games.

The Sharks are 11-2-1 in their last 14 games, and that included their latest seven-game winning streak, a stretch that vaulted the team from the Western Conference playoff bubble to a possible top-4 seed.

As San Jose enters its final four games of the season, the Sharks sit in the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture in the midst of a slew of teams that have alternated seeds throughout the season. Only eight points separate the third-place Vancouver Canucks and the ninth-place Detroit Red Wings.

While there are no guarantees of a playoff spot in the final stretch of games before the playoffs begin, the Sharks are playing as well as they have played all season and will have their sights set on claiming the No. 4 seed and home-ice in the first round. The Anaheim Ducks’ Pacific Division title is all but wrapped up this season, despite winning just five of their last 14 games, as the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings still sit a whole five points behind.

Where the Sharks eventually end up in the Western Conference playoff picture depends on how they fare in their final four games of the season. Matchups with the Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, two teams in the playoff hunt, will be crucial in keeping the Sharks in the top tier of the Western Conference—a position they would prefer to keep.

The way the Sharks are playing right now, not many teams in the Western Conference should scare the team besides the Chicago Blackhawks. San Jose is 3-0-0 against the third-seeded Canucks, and the second-seeded Ducks just lost back-to-back games to the Sharks by a total of 9-3.

The only serious threats to the Sharks, with the way have been playing of late, are the Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets. Chicago is arguably the best team in the NHL and Columbus simply matches up well with San Jose, outscoring the Sharks 10-2 in two meetings this season. The third meeting on Sunday will be a statement game for the Sharks, and a playoff plead for the Blue Jackets, despite no mathematical chance of the two teams facing off in the first round.

San Jose is as well-rounded a team as there is in the Western Conference at the moment, and their 16-1-5 record at home this season is something their first-round playoff opponent will have to consider. While a top-4 seed is preferred, it is not a must. The Western Conference playoff picture is wide open, and the Sharks could be the most dangerous team among them when all is said and done.

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