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Sharks at Golden Knights Preview: Final Pacific Division meeting puts clinching on the line

After dropping two games, the Sharks can clinch and stop Vegas from clinching the Division title.

Mar 22, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) gets possession of the puck against Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland (5) in the second period at SAP Center at San Jose.  John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights are meeting for the fourth and final time this season. Back in November, both teams put up four goals, until the Knights pulled out an overtime win. Vegas scored five goals again in February, walking away with a 5-3 victory. Last week, the Sharks beat the Knights in a huge 2-1 overtime thriller win, with a beautiful game-winner from Logan Couture and a stellar 24 save win for Martin Jones. The Sharks have managed to get at least one point in two of their three games so far against the team that has surprisingly dominated the Pacific Division.

The Sharks enter tonight sitting second place in the Pacific Division with a record of 44-24-10 and can clinch their playoff spot tonight if they earn two points. The first place Pacific Division leading Golden Knights are currently 49-22-7 on the year and are looking to secure the Division title with a win tonight. This game could also determine if the the Nashville Predators clinch the top of the Central Division and the Western Conference: they will have to beat the Buffalo Sabres while the Maple Leafs defeat the Jets and the Sharks beat the Golden Knights.

San Jose is coming off a tough 5-3 loss against those same Nashville Predators on Thursday in a game that felt like a Western Conference Final preview. The Sharks need to stay in playoff mode in their final divisional game. They’re on a two-game skid, after an eight-game winning streak and nine-game point streak, with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games. There are four games left for this team to pull together and finish strong.

Vegas will be tired tonight, after a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues last night, putting up a crazy offensive effort that ended with a Jonathan Marchessault game-winning goal 22 seconds into overtime. The Golden Knights are cooling down at the wrong time, going 5-3-2 in their last ten games.

Will the Sharks be able to bounce back from a tough loss last game?

The loss against Nashville on Thursday was hard-fought, but that doesn’t mean the Sharks were without error. Sloppy play in the defensive end in their defensive end, key chances in the slot going the wrong way, and six power play opportunities coming up goose eggs kept the boys in teal from getting an edge over the best team in the conference. Tonight, the Sharks will again be facing another conference-leading team and can’t let that playoff grind wear them down through these final few games.

The good news is that the Sharks have experience in this. The Knights, as a whole, do not.

How will the Sharks play tonight knowing a playoff spot can be clinched?

San Jose can clinch a playoff spot tonight if they beat the Golden Knights in any fashion. The Sharks have been holding onto second place in the division for nearly the entire season, so it’s not a matter of if this team will make the playoffs, but when. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks did them no favors by going into overtime in their final meeting last night. The Kings are still four points back of the Sharks and the Ducks are just one point back of the Kings.

Brent Burns (five points in five games) leads the team in assists (52), while Logan Couture (three points in five games) is leading the team in goals (32). Evander Kane has maintained his hot streak for the Sharks with four points in his last five games. Hopefully this offensive group can lead this team to a playoff clinch with a win tonight.

Will the Sharks be able to fix their power play troubles?

San Jose has been one of the most streaking teams in the month of March. While they’re scoring goals left and right and outscoring opponents 54-36, their power-play has still not found its game as of late, recording only one goal on the man-advantage in their last 20 chances. The Sharks’ power play is now ranked 15th in the league with a 20.4% conversion rate and will go up against the 11th best Vegas penalty-kill tonight.

Bold Prediction: San Jose will clinch a playoff spot tonight with a huge 5-3 win against Vegas tonight. Evander Kane will score two goals and Kevin Labanc will break his cold streak with a three-point night.