Shane Doan, Dany Heatley

Pacific Division Watch (March 19)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder, Underlined = clinched division.

Pacific Division outlook (March 19 -March 25th)

1. San Jose Sharks (41-23-8 for 90 pts; 72 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. St. Louis (Saturday), home vs. Calgary (Wednesday) and @ Los Angeles (Thursday).

Thoughts: After the next two home games, it’s all Pacific Division matchups for the Sharks. Those closing games include a substantial three games against second place Phoenix, two against Los Angeles and Anaheim, plus one against Dallas. In other words, the Sharks will only have themselves to blame if they let their slim division lead slip away.

2. Phoenix Coyotes (39-23-11 for 89 pts; 73 GP)

Current streak: Five straight wins.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Chicago (Sun), St. Louis (Tues) and Columbus (Thurs).

Thoughts: The best thing about Phoenix’s five game winning streak might be that they won four of those contests on the road. They have a great chance to push past San Jose being that they begin a six-game homestand on Sunday and three games remaining versus the Sharks (two of which are at home). Overall, the ‘Yotes only play two of their last nine games on the road, so they must be taken seriously.

3. Los Angeles Kings (40-26-5 for 85 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Anaheim (Sat), Calgary (Mon) and San Jose (Thurs).

Thoughts: It seems like most of the Pacific teams play the majority of their remaining games against each other, with the Kings holding true to that trend. Their five-game homestand didn’t begin well – their fans booed them, after all – but this is still their best chance to improve their playoff prospects.

4. Dallas Stars (38-24-8 for 84 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Philadelphia (Sat) and home vs. Anaheim (Wed).

Thoughts: The Stars need to stock up some points in the next two home games – even if they are far from cakewalks – because they face a harrowing five-game road trip beginning next Saturday in Nashville. That trip begins against the Predators and then swings the team through every Pacific Division squad, making it a high stakes group of games. If they can keep their heads above water after those games, their last four contests are relatively palatable. That’s a big if, though.

5. Anaheim Ducks (38-27-5 for 81 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Los Angeles (Sat), home vs. Calgary (Sun), @ Dallas (Wed) and @ Nashville (Thurs).

Thoughts: The rest of March is going to be tough for Anaheim, as they face four of six games on the road against challenging squads. The Ducks’ final five games are against Pacific teams, with two against San Jose and Los Angeles and one contest versus Dallas. It would be awfully interesting if it all came down to their last two games: a home-and-home series with the Kings.

In Minnesota, skepticism greets Fletcher’s optimism

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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Safe to say Chuck Fletcher’s press conference yesterday didn’t quell the growing media skepticism in Minnesota.

A few excerpts from a column by Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, following the Wild GM’s day in front of the cameras:

He preached more patience, spun statistical gold out of cubic zirconia and praised the resiliency of his club.

The Wild, quite simply, are adrift. Their identity changes slump to slump, streak to streak, game to game, shift to shift. They are a difficult team to defend until they throw away the puck. They play tentatively until confronted by absolute crisis.

He needs a miracle worker behind the bench to engage this group over 82 games.
He has to wade through a thicket of prohibitive contracts to create cap space to acquire one or two of the top-flight forwards he craves.

Indeed, it was Fletcher’s optimism that many were struck by yesterday. While conceding that the Wild had a “disappointing” season, he insisted that better days were ahead:

Now, granted, any GM that’s been on the job as long as Fletcher will be loath to admit he’s got a bit of a mess on his hands. He’s the one who put this Wild roster together. He’s the one who gave out all those big contracts. He wouldn’t be the first GM to put a positive spin on a challenging situation.

Or, perhaps Fletcher isn’t spinning anything. Maybe he’s really and truly optimistic about the potential to improve the Wild this offseason.

“I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year,” he said. “It’s going to give us more options.”

One thing’s for sure, though — Fletcher will be a GM to watch this summer and into next season.

The pressure’s on to justify the optimism.

Related: Fletcher ‘not on any hot seat’ with Wild owner

Report: Flames to sign Czech League standout Pribyl

CALGARY, AB - MAY 5: Fans of the Calgary Flames pass around a large flag prior to Game Three against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome on May 5, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Daniel Pribyl, the big-bodied Czech winger that’s coming off a stellar Extraliga campaign, will reportedly sign a two-year, two-way deal with Calgary on Friday, per Sportsnet.

Pribyl, 23, has been one of the more sought after European free agents this spring. A former Montreal draftee — the Habs failed to sign him to an entry-level deal prior to their rights expiring — the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder scored 45 points in 45 games for Sparta Praha this season, finishing second in league scoring.

(Ironically enough, Pribyl finished second to a former Flame — Roman Cervenka, who spent the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign in Calgary.)

This is a nice get for the Flames. GM Brad Treliving said the club’s lack of size at forward as something he planned to address this offseason, and the Pribyl contract is relatively low-risk (especially since it’s a two-way, meaning the club can send him to the minors and not have to pay his NHL salary.)

It’ll be interesting to see where Pribyl fits in the Calgary lineup next season. Sportsnet speculates he could fill the top-line winger role next to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, a spot filled by Jiri Hudler prior to his trade to Florida.

Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds

San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski, center, celebrates after scoring with teammates Brent Burns, left, and Joe Thornton during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes Saturday, April 9, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 1-0. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Since the San Jose Sharks last played a game, the Nashville Predators fell behind Anaheim in their first-round series with a Game 5 loss and then responded with two straight wins to eliminate the Ducks.

While the Predators have played three grueling games and taken two long flights, the Sharks have been resting and practicing for six days and are eager to get back on the ice when their second-round series opens against Nashville on Friday night.

“I don’t think we have to get ramped back up,” coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday. “I’m guessing that I’m probably going to have to calm them down a little bit. They’re ready to go. They’ve got some pent up energy here after four or five days sitting around watching, and they want to play. I don’t think our energy is going to be an issue. I think it’s just going to be getting that composure and working smart.”

The Predators overcame a lull in their first-round series after winning the first two games in Anaheim. They lost three straight following that before rallying for two wins to take the series in seven games with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

They took a little time to celebrate in Anaheim before taking the short flight to the Bay Area on Thursday. They won’t even have time for a full practice before Game 1 begins.

“It’s going to turn around quick, so we’ve got to realize that we’re moving on and we’ve still got a lot of work left to do,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “It’s a step. We’ve got a lot of work left to do. Enjoy it for a couple of minutes and start to focus on San Jose.”

That extra time off hasn’t always benefited the Sharks, who have lost their past four playoff series after having at least five days off between rounds.

Here are some other things to watch in the second-round series:

IN THE NETS: After Pekka Rinne allowed 11 goals in three straight losses to Anaheim that put Nashville in a 3-2 hole, there were some critics calling for a change in nets in Nashville. Good thing coach Peter Laviolette stuck with Rinne. He stopped 62 of 64 shots in the final two games, once again looking like a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

“He’s a goalie that can steal games,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “He’s proven that over his career.”

San Jose’s Martin Jones has much less of a pedigree in his first year as a starter. But he outplayed his former stablemate Jonathan Quick in the first round, allowing 11 goals in five games to Los Angeles.

HIGH-SCORING D: Led by 61 points from Roman Josi and 51 more from Weber, the Predators got more offense from their defense than almost any team in the NHL, tying Calgary with a league-best 203 points from the blue line in the regular season. The Sharks were next on the list with 179 points from their defense led by All-Star Brent Burns, who led all defensemen with 27 goals to go along with 48 assists.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Sharks rely heavily on their power play, with an experienced five-man top unit anchored by Burns, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. San Jose ranked third in the NHL with a 22.5 percent success rate in the regular season and added five goals on 21 chances (23.8 percent) against the Kings.

“Their top players are some of the top players in the league, and really dangerous individuals,” Rinne said. “Their power play is really good.”

The Predators had less success in the first round with just one power-play goal on 26 chances against the Ducks for a league-worst 3.8 percent conversion rate in the first round.

ROAD-ICE ADVANTAGE: Opening the series at home is not exactly an advantage for the Sharks, who won a league-high 28 road games in the regular season and swept all three games in Los Angeles in the first round. The Predators also proved they can play well away from home, winning three of four in Anaheim, including the Game 7 clincher.

GOOD LUCK CHARM: Nashville forward Craig Smith played a key role in the opening round, getting a goal and an assist in the Game 2 win. Smith then got hurt early in Game 3 and also missed the two losses that followed. He returned to play the final two games and the Predators were 4-0 in the first round when he was healthy.

 

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Friday night. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

St. Louis at Dallas (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 1 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Nashville at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 1 will also be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

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Blues best Blackhawks in epic Game 7