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

4 Comments

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.