Why winning the Pacific is kind of a big deal

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Many people have analogized the Pacific Division race to musical chairs – and with good reason. It seems like the top seed changes all the time and without much reason yet with a strange amount of rhythm.

(Excuse me for underrating the art of musical chairs, but winning the Pacific does take more skill, though.)

CSNBayArea.com’s Brad Weimer originally looked at the advantages that would come from gaining a third round spot from a San Jose Sharks’ perspective, but it works for all the four teams with a shot at the crown. Here are some of the numbers that show the difference between finishing in third versus the likely alternative – the seventh or eighth seed.

(Warning: there will be some all caps.)

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS TO MAKE CONFERENCE FINALS (since 1994)

3rd Seed: 26.4%
7-8 Seeds: 8.8%

With LESS chances (there are only two 3 seeds per year vs. four 7-8 seeded teams) the 3 seeds make the conference finals over THREE TIMES as much as teams seeded 7 or 8.

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS TO MAKE STANLEY CUP FINALS (since 1994)

3rd Seed: 14.7%
7-8 Seeds: 7.3%

Being a 3 seed DOUBLES your chances of making the Stanley Cup Finals over being seeded 7 or 8.

What about the Sharks ultimate goal, hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup as the champions of the NHL?  Well here’s the bottom line folks….

There have been three Stanley Cup Champions from the third seed under this playoff format.  From the last two seeds?  ZERO.  Five teams have made it to the Finals, but all have gone home in defeat (ask Bret Hedican (’94) and Curtis Brown (’99) who both have been on the losing end as an underdog team in the Finals).

Weimer emphasizes the Stanley Cup finals gap, but really, the conference finals gap is bigger, includes a slightly larger sample size and probably emphasizes the difference in advantage more than anything else.

Either way, both conferences have exposed the somewhat-arbitrary nature of handing a top-three seed to a division winner regardless of the putridity of that given division.*

Sports Club Stats illustrates how close the race is both in terms of who is likely to make the playoffs and win the division.

There are plenty of ways to break down the race for that top spot, then, but a woolly sports writer might want to lean on the old “road goes through” line with the Sharks. San Jose’s final five games are all against Pacific contenders. They’ll face the Stars twice, Coyotes once and then finish the season with a home-and-home against the Kings.

It might take until the end of that duo of matches to find out who ends up with the Pacific crown – and perhaps a marked advantage once the playoffs begin.

* – Personally, it seems like it would be fairer to give the worst division winner at least the fourth seed. It’s unfair to ding up a division winner too much if they’re in an especially competitive group – the Vancouver Canucks’ cakewalk in the Northwest provides a useful counterpoint – but the automatic top-three seed seems to encourage convenient mediocrity.

Goalie nods: Andersen back for Leafs

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Curtis McElhinney held up his end of the bargain.

Now, it’s back to Frederik Andersen.

After missing the last game (well, one-and-a-half games) to an upper-body injury, Andersen will resume his regular No. 1 duties when the Leafs take on the Preds in Nashville this evening.

Andersen was initially hurt Saturday in Buffalo, then sat out Tuesday’s big win over Florida — one that McElhinney called the biggest start of his career, and responded to by stopping 25 of 27 shots.

It’ll be interesting to see how Andersen fares in his first game back, and if he continue his strong month of March (6-1-2 in his last 10 games, with a .936 save percentage). The Preds have played well of late, winning seven of their last nine, and haven’t lost at Bridgestone since Mar. 4.

For the Preds, Pekka Rinne starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

Thomas Greiss, who’s lost his last two starts, gets another shot as the desperate Isles take on the Flyers. Philly will counter with Steve Mason, who’s riding a personal three-game winning streak.

Eddie Lack remains out with a neck injury, so Cam Ward starts when the ‘Canes host the Jackets. No word yet on a Columbus starter, but Sergei Bobrovsky has played three straight, including Tuesday’s win over Buffalo.

— The B’s are desperate for wins, so no surprise they’re riding Tuukka Rask into tonight’s tilt against Dallas. The visiting Stars have yet to name a starter, but Antti Niemi is likely.

James Reimer and Roberto Luongo are both out injured, so Reto Berra starts for the Panthers while newly recalled Adam Wilcox backs up. For the host Habs, it’ll be Carey Price.

— Another team desperate for points? The Bolts, who will go with Andrei Vasilevskiy after he was hooked from — then returned to — Monday’s wild comeback victory against Chicago. Petr Mrazek goes for the visiting Red Wings.

Alex Stalock, recalled yesterday, will bump Darcy Kuemper from the No. 2 gig in Minnesota, and make his regular season debut. He’ll be up against Craig Anderson in the Ottawa goal.

— The Ducks just keep winning with Jonathan Bernier in goal, so why rush back John Gibson? That will continue to be the plan tonight, as Anaheim visits Winnipeg. Michael Hutchinson starts for the Jets.

— It’s Martin Jones versus Cam Talbot when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Pre-game reading: On Matthew Tkachuk, the NHL’s newest villain

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones were none too impressed with the Los Angeles Kings’ response to Matthew Tkachuk last night in Calgary. Milbury took aim at Drew Doughty for turning the other cheek, while Jones ripped Jake Muzzin for turning down a fight.

— Tkachuk is the “villain we need right now,” according to Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. After watching the 19-year-old’s busy night against the Kings, Kennedy writes: “The kid is mixing things up. He’s the perfect example of the guy you want on your team but hate when he’s on the other side. And he’s just getting started.” (The Hockey News)

Brock Boeser has a bright future with the Vancouver Canucks, but his journey to the NHL hasn’t been all roses. In 2010, Boeser’s dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and in 2014, one of his good friends was killed in a car accident. “When you have experiences like that,” said his mom, “you can’t help but grow as you deal with them.” (National Post)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless wants the NHL to crack down on slashing. And we bet Johnny Gaudreau agrees. Johnny Hockey got chopped on the hand again last night. This time, the referee called a penalty. But too often slashing goes unpunished, just like hooking and holding used to. (TSN)

— A Q&A with Alex Radulov, who really wants to sign a contract extension with the Montreal Canadiens. “I would love to stay here. I like it here. I love the fans. I love this [training] facility. I come here even at night time; it’s all open doors. I can come and do whatever I need to. I really enjoy it, it’s really nice. You got everything here just to make yourself better.” All that said, contract talks are on hold for now. (Sportsnet)

Braden Holtby, fashion icon? Apparently, one of the best goalies in the NHL is also quite the clotheshorse. “I’ve always had an appreciation for things that are well-made, be it art or houses or carpentry, woodworking, clothes, I find the details very impressive for people putting their work into their craft. They see visions and they see those things come out, and you can see when someone cares about what they’re making. I think fashion’s a bit along the lines of that.” (Washington Post)

Enjoy the games!

Jets’ Enstrom undergoes second knee surgery in 12 months

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There’s not much left for Winnipeg to play for — just five regular-season games left, and no playoffs on the horizon — so today’s news that Tobias Enstrom has undergone season-ending knee surgery isn’t a crippling development.

Can’t be good, though.

Enstrom’s had a difficult year health-wise and, at the time of surgery, was dealing with a concussion suffered on a Tom Sestito hit back in early March. Prior to that, he missed time while attending to a family matter in his native Sweden and, prior to that, was shut down late last season to undergo knee surgery.

It’s unclear if today’s procedure was related to the one Enstrom had last March.

It is worth noting that, at the time of last year’s surgery, head coach Paul Maurice noted the 32-year-old had been dealing with the injury for months.

“He’s been able to get through it because of blocks of days off. If he can get a two day block, he’d get a little better and it’s just getting worse,” Maurice said, per Global News. “It got to the point that he’s not recovering and he hasn’t been. He hasn’t been for almost a month now. He’s not recovering enough on his days off for the pain ever to subside.”

All told, Enstrom appeared in 60 games this year, scoring 14 points while averaging just under 22 minutes per night. Next season will be the last of a five-year, $28.75 million deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit.

Lundqvist will start four of five remaining games

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Henrik Lundqvist has had two tough starts since returning from injury.

The 35-year-old allowed five goals in his first game back, a 6-3 loss to Anaheim Sunday, and five more in his second game, a 5-4 OT loss to San Jose Tuesday.

But Lundqvist is still the No. 1 in New York, and for that reason he’s scheduled to start four of the Rangers’ five remaining regular-season games, with the hope he’ll be able to play his way back into form in time for the postseason.

Lundqvist was not happy after Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks, even though the point the Rangers gained earned them a playoff berth.

“I’m extremely disappointed right now,” he told reporters. “I’m glad we’re in, but I want to get the job done. I want the win. We found a way to lose this one at the end.”

With the loss, Lundqvist’s save percentage fell to .911 on the season. If it finishes at that number, it would be the lowest save percentage of his NHL career.

Antti Raanta‘s save percentage, meanwhile, sits at .922. In his last start, he shut out the Kings in Los Angeles.

The Rangers host Pittsburgh tomorrow and Philadelphia Sunday. Next week, they’re in Washington Wednesday, Ottawa Saturday, and then they close out their schedule at home to Pittsburgh Sunday.

Raanta will start one of the final two games.

The Rangers are likely to face Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.