Flames vs. Sharks: Who wins Pacific, avoiding Vegas in Round 1?

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Generally speaking, the most exciting parts of the Push for the Playoffs comes in watching teams scratch and claw for postseason survival. There’s a natural draw to do-or-die moments in sports, and jobs could very well be on the line depending upon where teams end up in the wild-card races.

But, for all we know, those teams are merely battling it out to get booted out of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the juggernauts at the top of the NHL.

Also, it’s definitely worthwhile to win your division, and thus avoid tough No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchups in the first round. (Hot take: the complaints aren’t going to die down from fans of such teams, including the Maple Leafs.)

That contrast is pretty stark in the Pacific Division, actually.

Avoiding a gamble against Vegas

The Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks are currently in quite a battle for that division title. Calgary’s up a point, but San Jose has a game in hand. The two teams meet just one more time this season (March 31, in San Jose), and it could be so close that it might come down to that contest.

And there’s quite a lot at stake.

With all due respect to the scrappiness of the Wild and other bubble teams (the Pacific Division will most likely draw the second wild-card team), facing Minnesota is a lot more comfortable a thought than trying to get beyond Vegas.

The Golden Knights have often been better than their solid record has indicated for much of this season, and that was before they traded for a true star in Mark Stone. For all we know, the Golden Knights could once again be a force in the games that matter the most, so Calgary and San Jose have some serious incentive to put off such a matchup.

Naturally, winning the division also confers home-ice advantage, likely for the West’s bracket of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So, there’s quite a bit on the line. Let’s break down the future for each team to get an idea of what’s ahead.

Pacific 1: Flames: 41-20-7, 89 points, 68 games played, 41 regulation/OT wins

20-7-5 at home; 21-13-2 away

Games remaining split: nine home, five road

Recent play: Calgary’s been very streaky lately. They’re currently on a four-game losing streak, and they’re usually-explosive offense has been bottled up, with just five goals combined during that stretch.

Before the four-game losing streak, the Flames had won seven games in a row. The streakiness stretches back further than that, too (they had four in a row from Feb. 7-14 after winning four of five from Jan. 18 – Feb. 3). So maybe this team is just going to be hot and cold, which would be especially good news for people who want to talk about the Flames being on fire/getting “doused” when they’re losing.

Remaining schedule, with head-to-head matchup bolded:

Sun., Mar. 10: vs. Vegas
Tue., Mar. 12: vs. New Jersey
Fri., Mar. 15: vs. Rangers
Sat., Mar. 16: @ Winnipeg
Tue., Mar. 19: vs. Columbus
Thu., Mar. 21: vs. Ottawa
Sat., Mar. 23: @ Vancouver
Mon., Mar. 25: vs. Los Angeles
Wed., Mar. 27: vs. Dallas
Fri., Mar. 29: vs. Anaheim
Sun., Mar. 31: @ San Jose
Mon., Apr 1: @ Los Angeles
Wed., Apr 3: @ Anaheim
Sat., Apr 6: vs. Edmonton

Some thoughts on that schedule: The rest of March is full of opportunities. The Flames play their next three games at home, but it goes beyond that, with five of six and eight of their next 10 games at home.

With both the Flames and Sharks, it figures to be interesting to see how “checked out” some of their lesser opponents end up being. Calgary faces the lowly Kings and Ducks twice, then finish out against an Oilers team that might not be as hot on April 6 as it is today.

Pacific 2: Sharks: 40-19-8, 88 points, 67 GP, 40 ROW

22-5-5 at home; 18-14-3 away

Games remaining split: nine home, six road

Recent play: The Sharks are currently on a three-game winning streak, and they’ve generally been on an upward trajectory. Going back to a 7-6 OT win against the Capitals on Jan. 22, the Sharks are on an impressive 12-3-1 run in their last 16 games.

One thing to consider is that San Jose is wisely playing it safe with Erik Karlsson‘s injury issues. That’s a smart big-picture move, but it might hurt their chances of winning this race.

Remaining schedule, with head-to-head matchup bolded:

Sat., Mar. 9: vs. St. Louis
Mon., Mar. 11: @ Minnesota
Tue., Mar. 12: @ Winnipeg
Thu., Mar. 14: vs. Florida
Sat., Mar. 16: vs. Nashville
Mon., Mar. 18: vs. Vegas
Thu., Mar. 21: @ Los Angeles
Fri., Mar. 22: @ Anaheim
Mon., Mar. 25: vs.Detroit
Thu., Mar. 28: vs. Chicago
Sat., Mar. 30: vs. Vegas
Sun., Mar. 31: vs. Calgary
Tue., Apr. 2: @ Vancouver
Thu., Apr. 4: @ Edmonton
Sat., Apr. 6: vs. Colorado

Some thoughts on that schedule: Broadly and subjectively speaking, the Sharks’ schedule might be a little bit tougher than Calgary’s remaining slate.

They face some challenges in their next six games, as they face five teams currently positioned in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, plus a Panthers team that’s been pesky. That said, the Sharks could get a nice break to end their regular season, as it’s quite possible that all of the Canucks, Oilers, and Avalanche might have little to play for by April.

It’s worth noting that the Sharks face the Golden Knights twice, while Calgary only draws Vegas one more time before the postseason.

***

Overall, it’s pretty tough to pick a favorite to win the Pacific. Again, it might come down to who wins on March 31, particularly if that game ends in regulation.

As important as it is to be as fresh and healthy as possible come playoff time, the threat of the Golden Knights as a first-round opponent definitely makes it easier to understand why the Flames and Sharks might really step on the gas to win this race.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blues look to clinch Stanley Cup Final berth in Game 6

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Game 6:  San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET (Blues lead series 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live with host Liam McHugh alongside Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. Kathryn Tappen and Jeremy Roenick will provide on-site reports throughout the game.

The Blues took a 3-2 Western Conference Final lead on Sunday with a 5-0 Game 5 blowout win over the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose. Jordan Binnington made 21 saves for his first Stanley Cup Playoff shutout, Jaden Schwartz had a hat trick, and Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists for the Blues. St. Louis is now 7-2 on the road and have set their single-season record with 11 playoff wins. The series moves to St. Louis tonight for Game 6 as the Blues attempt to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.

If the Sharks win tonight’s Game 6, they will force a decisive Game 7 in San Jose on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final at stake.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Here is the complete schedule for the entire 2019 Stanley Cup Final series:

Game 1: Monday, May 27, 8 p.m.: San Jose/St. Louis at Bruins | NBC
Game 2: Wednesday, May 29, 8 p.m.: San Jose/St. Louis at Bruins | NBCSN
Game 3: Saturday, June 1, 8 p.m.: Bruins at San Jose/St. Louis | NBCSN
Game 4: Monday, June 3, 8 p.m.: Bruins at San Jose/St. Louis | NBC
*Game 5: Thursday, June 6, 8 p.m.: San Jose/St. Louis at Bruins | NBC
*Game 6: Sunday, June 9, 8 p.m.: Bruins at San Jose/St. Louis | NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, June 12, 8 p.m.: San Jose/St. Louis at Bruins | NBC
*If necessary
(All times ET, subject to change)

Blues face prime opportunity to return to Stanley Cup Final

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When you have your opponent looking down and out in a playoff series you do not want to let them get back up.

You do not even want to give them the chance to get back up.

You want to eliminate them when you have the opportunity and remove all doubt, avoiding what would be an all-or-nothing Game 7 on the road.

That is the position the St. Louis Blues find themselves in heading into Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) when they will host an injury-riddled San Jose Sharks team.

The Blues have won the past two games, including a thoroughly dominant performance on Sunday, they are at home, and they are facing a Sharks team that is without two of its best players and potentially a third that will almost certainly not be 100 percent if he does play.

Everything has fallen in the Blues’ favor for this game, and it is hard to imagine a better opportunity to close out a series than this.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just look at everything that is sitting in the Blues’ corner for this game.

  • Their best player, Vladimir Tarasenko, has gone on a tear and is riding a five-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s game. He was always going to be one of the biggest factors in this series and has found his scoring touch at just the right time.
  • The Sharks will not have Erik Karlsson, one of their most important players and a defender that can single-handedly change a team and a game when he is in the lineup. This series started to shift in the Blues’ favor when Karlsson’s groin injury resurfaced, limiting his ability to make an impact. He was obviously less than 100 percent in the Blues’ Game 4 win and barely played in Game 5 on Sunday. The Blues have outscored the Sharks by a 7-1 margin in those two games. Even though the Sharks still have another Norris Trophy winner (and a Norris Trophy finalist this season) in Brent Burns in their lineup, they are definitely a weaker team when one of them is out of the lineup.
  • The Sharks will also be without Tomas Hertl, currently their second-leading goal-scorer. With Hertl and Karlsson out it means the Sharks will be playing a must-win game without two of the top-six scorers in the playoffs and two players that have been involved in an overwhelming majority of their offense. At least one of Hertl or Karlsson has been on the ice for 39 of the Sharks’ 57 goals, while one of them has scored or assisted on 25 of them. When neither one is on the ice the Sharks have averaged just 2.22 goals per 60 minutes (all situations) in the playoffs. Not a great number.

So, yeah, this is a huge opportunity for the Blues and a game where it would probably be in their best interest to take care of business.

A loss on Tuesday night not only sends them to a Game 7 in San Jose where anything can happen, it also leaves open the possibility that one of those two key Sharks players (or even both of them) could be available. Yes, the Blues have been great on the road in these playoffs, but there is no guarantee that continues, especially in a win-or-go-home situation.

Even without Hertl and Karlsson the Sharks still have plenty of talent on their roster, so this game is far from a cake-walk for the Blues. But this is definitely the weakest lineup they are going to face in this matchup and there is never going to be a better opportunity to end a 49 year Stanley Cup Final drought than this night.

If they are going to do it, this seems like the game for it to happen.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Karlsson, Hertl out for Game 6; Pavelski game-time decision

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If the San Jose Sharks are going to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues they are going to have to do it on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream) without a couple of their most important players.

Coach Pete DeBoer announced after the morning skate that defender Erik Karlsson and forward Tomas Hertl are not available for Game 6 against and that they did not even accompany the team on the road trip to St. Louis.

Both players exited the Sharks’ Game 5 loss on Sunday due to injury.

Karlsson has been hampered by a nagging groin injury that has resurfaced in the playoffs, while Hertl had to leave the game after he was on the receiving end of a high hit from Blues forward Ivan Barbashev. There was no penalty called on the play and Barbashev was not disciplined by the league.

Captain Joe Pavelski also exited Sunday’s game with an injury and did not take part in the morning skate on Tuesday but is a game-time decision according to DeBoer.

Pavelski had previously missed the first six games of the Sharks’ Round 2 series against the Colorado Avalanche after he was injured in their Game 7 win against the Vegas Golden Knights. He has five points (two goals, three assists) since returning to the lineup.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

While Pavelski at least seems like a possibility to play, the losses of Karlsson and Hertl are going to be significant for the Sharks.

Even though Karlsson has been limited by injury for much of the season he has still been an impact player and played a huge role in the team’s Round 1 comeback against the Golden Knights. He has 16 total points in 19 games and is the league’s fifth-leading scorer in the playoffs. It was obvious he was struggling in the Sharks’ Game 4 loss but still attempted to play in Game 5. It did not go well as he was clearly unable to play up to his normal level and logged just 10 minutes of ice time, with only three of those minutes coming after the first period.

Hertl, meanwhile, has been one of the Sharks’ most dynamic forwards and has scored some of their biggest goals this postseason, including a game-winning shorthanded goal in double overtime to help the team fight off elimination in Round 1, and one of the power play goals in their come-from-behind Game 7 win against the Golden Knights.

He has 10 goals (third among all players in the playoffs) and 15 total points.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canes’ Martinook, de Haan have offseason surgeries

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook and defenseman Calvin de Haan have had offseason surgeries.

General manager Don Waddell said Tuesday that Martinook had a procedure on a core muscle while de Haan’s surgery was on his right shoulder.

Martinook is expected to recover in 4-6 weeks while de Haan will be out 4-6 months.

The 26-year-old Martinook had a career-best 15 goals with five game-winners, and was in and out of the lineup during the playoffs due to injuries. The 28-year-old de Haan injured his shoulder against Pittsburgh on March 31 but returned for Game 4 of the first-round playoff series against Washington.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NH and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports