It's hard not to look ahead to Thursday's showdown between the Sharks and Ducks that will have a major impact on who ends up winning the Pacific Division (and avoids a first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings in the process). But San Jose still has another game against an Eastern Conference opponent to play before that, their twelfth straight against the East thanks to a bizarre scheduling quirk that's seen them face zero Western Conference foes since the first week of February.
The Florida Panthers made arguably the biggest splash of the NHL's trade deadline by re-acquiring superstar goaltender Roberto Luongo from Vancouver. He'll face San Jose for the first time since mid-November, when the Canucks hosted the Sharks for the teams' final regular season meeting. Florida will be without two of its brightest young stars in Aleksander Barkov, who sustained an injury at the Olympics, and Jonathan Huberdeau, out with an upper-body ailment.
Considering the Sharks' somewhat inexplicable struggles against the dregs of the East this season, along with the anticipation of that upcoming tilt with Anaheim, this feels like the ultimate trap game. It would be decidedly Sharklike to have their six-game winning streak ended by an injury-hobbled Panthers squad, so hopefully they don't get caught looking ahead to Thursday like the rest of us probably are. Raffi Torres and Brad Stuart will remain out of the lineup for the Sharks, with the line combinations, defense pairings and starting goaltender slated to be identical to the roster that defeated the Rangers on Sunday.
|25-35-8, 58 points
||45-17-7, 97 points|
|7th in Atlantic
||2nd in Pacific
Projected Sharks Lineup
Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
Marty Havlat - James Sheppard - Tommy Wingels
Andrew Desjardins - Adam Burish - Tyler Kennedy
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Matt Irwin - Justin Braun
Scott Hannan - Dan Boyle
Projected Panthers Lineup
Scottie Upshall - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes
Sean Bergenheim - Vincent Trocheck - Tomas Fleischmann
Quinton Howden - Brandon Pirri - Joey Crabb
Krys Barch - Scott Gomez - Jimmy Hayes
Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert
Dmitry Kulikov - Colby Robak
Dylan Olsen - Ed Jovanovski