Each of the top four teams in the Pacific Division has seven games remaining in their season, and only five points separates the first-place Anaheim Ducks from the fourth-place Calgary Flames. With only two weeks remaining, the race for top spot in the division could come down to the final day, but who escapes the regular season with top spot in the Pacific?
I feel like the old hands in the Pacific will pace themselves at the end of the season. San Jose has already hit a funk and Anaheim's got some old war horses that could use a game or two rest if nothing is really at stake. The Oilers, on the other hand? They're the young pups! This is their first time heading to the dance and they're going to push the pace for 82 games. Connor McDavid has a scoring title to win and the idea of going worst to first in the division must have some meaning in Edmonton. I'm not sure how far this Oilers team will get in the post-season, but I do know they're going to be stoked for the opportunity. And that means trying to clinch that Pacific banner. (Ryan Kennedy)
Peaking late matters. The Ducks are as hot as any team in the NHL, winners of four straight and 8-1-1 in their past 10 games. Their recent run is especially impressive considering their stellar starting stopper, John Gibson, remains on the shelf with a lower-body injury. The key to the Ducks' surge? Mr. Ryan Getzlaf, who has taken the team on his broad shoulders. The big fella has 20 points, including 17 assists, in his past 12 games, showing us his prime is not yet done even though he turns 32 in May. (Matt Larkin)
San Jose Sharks
So here I am, charged with making the case for a team that has lost six games in a row and been outscored 23-7. This ain’t going to be easy, but here goes. Well, the Sharks next game is against the New York Rangers, who are mired in first wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference and really have no reason to be motivated. Plus, they’ll be at the tail end of a trip through California. There you go. Losing streak busted. Then the Sharks have a steady diet of Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, once each at home and once each on the road. In the nine games they’ve played against those teams this season, they’re 6-3-0, including running the table against the Canucks. So if they win the Ranger game and four of the six remaining, they’ll finish with 101 points. That would mean Anaheim, who has four road games and a much more difficult schedule, would need eight points (probably nine because the Sharks have them on ROW at the moment), to win the division and the Oilers would need 11 to pass them. So jump on the Sharks bandwagon now, while there’s still lots of room. (Ken Campbell)
It took a while, but the Flames are finally getting competent goaltending from Brian Elliott and that has resulted in Calgary shooting up the standings. Add in the steady offense from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, underrated two-way contributions from Mikael Backlund, a strong rookie year from Matthew Tkachuk and an outstanding defensive pair in Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano and the Flames have all the makings of a team that can make a shocking late run. Calgary might be underdogs considering they're five points back, but the stage is set for a whirlwind finish. Over their final seven games, Calgary will go head-to-head twice with the Ducks and Sharks. That's four points the Flames could potentially take from their direct competition leading up to the final day of the season. (Jared Clinton)
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