NHL on NBCSN: Sharks hope to keep playoff dream alive by beating Penguins

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the San Jose Sharks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the SAP Center at 10:00 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

With just 16 games left, the San Jose Sharks’ situation is desperate. They’re five points behind the Calgary Flames and third place in the Pacific Division and six points shy of the Winnipeg Jets and the second Wild Card spot.

Making up the gap necessary to get into the playoffs will be difficult enough in the time remaining, but they’re also trailing the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings among teams that don’t currently occupy a playoff spot. Given Los Angeles’ history of stepping up in clutch situations and its 10-3-1 record over its last 13 contests, the Kings could certainly end up making San Jose’s monumental task even more difficult.

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If the Sharks are to make the playoffs under these circumstances, they’ll need to crush their competitors over the last five weeks of the season. Even a 11-4-1 or 10-3-3 run to end the season would only bring them up to 95 points, which is the bare minimum they need to have a better than even chance of advancing to the postseason, per Sports Club Stats.

So they really do need a win tonight to kick off this final stretch on the right note, which is unfortunate because Pittsburgh isn’t a team you want to face right now if you’re desperate for two points. The Penguins have been strong all season, but they’ve been particularly good lately with six wins in their last seven contests. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off of the ninth shutout of the campaign while forward Patric Hornqvist could also prove to be a thorn in the Sharks side after scoring seven goals and nine points in his last seven contests. That’s on top of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who have the potential to be the difference in any given game.

The Sharks will counter with Patrick Marleau (four goals and six points in his last seven contests) and Joe Thornton (a goal and five points in his last three games). After the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Kings in the 2014 playoffs, there was rampant speculation about the possibility of one or both of them being dealt as the team looked to focus on their younger players going forward. Now that duo might be the Sharks best chance of staying alive in the playoff race this year.