Antti Niemi

Sharks possible first round match-ups won’t be easy … IF they make the playoffs

The San Jose Sharks are two games back of a playoff spot with nine games left to play. This is only the second time in 12 years that the Sharks have even been close to missing the postseason. The good news is, with eight of their last nine games of the season in the Pacific Division, the Sharks are well-positioned to sneak in the backdoor.

The bad news: they probably shouldn’t even bother.

Although Western Conference seeding reads like a game of drunken musical chairs, there are only three logical spots where the Sharks could end up. With 82 points, the Sharks sit at the 10th seed behind Phoenix and Los Angeles, but they’re also 3 points behind Dallas for first place in the Pacific. Every other team in the playoff picture has at least 90 points, so if San Jose wants to sneak in, it will either be by stealing the third seed in the final few games or by sneaking into one of the final two seeds by dumb luck.

The scenario should the Sharks end up with the 8th seed is the bleakest of them all, pitting them against the first place St. Louis Blues. Save some wild collapse by St. Louis, the Blues will enjoy home ice advantage against the Sharks in that series, and they’ve proven to be San Jose’s most fearsome rival this season. I can’t picture a scenario where the Sharks escape that match-up with their playoff lives intact — if they do, it’ll be time to start printing “We Believe” t-shirts.

A 7th seed berth would pit the Sharks against the Vancouver Canucks. I think we all remember what happened the last time the Sharks faced Vancouver in the playoffs. Although at times Roberto Luongo can be as untrustworthy as Antti Niemi, the mechanical hockey sense that the Canucks as a whole possess will probably overpower the Sharks. Again, with the Canucks sitting over 10 points ahead of the Sharks in the standings and home ice advantage on Vancouver’s side, a match-up like this will certainly threaten my playoff beard with a short lifespan.

The third (and least likely) scenario has the Sharks winning the Pacific and playing the 6th seed Chicago Blackhawks. Not only will I probably have to avoid listening to Damon Bruce for the entirety of the series, but therapy will be in order to deal with the flashbacks from 2010. The last time the Sharks faced Chicago was in the Western Conference Finals that season, where they were swept in four games by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. The argument could be made that this is a different Blackhawks team, perhaps less explosive and defensively stout, but then the same thing could be said of this years Sharks.

With several games still left to be played, much can change in the Western Conference in terms of seeding. These possible opponents are not set in stone. But the other possible challengers — Detroit, Dallas, Nashville, Colorado and Los Angeles — haven’t proven to be easy work for the Sharks either.

And all playoff Rubik’s Cubing aside, the Sharks haven’t shown that they are in a position to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 7-game series, let alone the Vancouver Canucks. Only Martin Havlat appears to be playing like he wants a ring; all the other moving pieces on the Sharks are operating like they’re due for an oil change, or perhaps even a salvage title. Sharks fans would be doing themselves a favor by tempering any wild comeback fantasies now if they want to maintain their sanity. In fact, it might be time to start looking ahead to next season a little sooner than they’re used to.

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