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Avalanche at Sharks Preview: Keep the fight alive

There’s no room for rest, with the Ducks creeping up in the standings and the Avs fighting to stay in.

Jan 18, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones (31) makes a save on a deflection from Colorado Avalanche left wing Blake Comeau (14) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This part of the season should’ve been a cakewalk for the Sharks. On paper, ending the year with several games against eliminated and bubble teams seems like a breezy way to slide into playoffs.

But the Sharks are now riding a four-game losing streak, with only two of those losses against teams who are guaranteed a postseason. The most egregious loss came against Dallas on Tuesday, when the Sharks pulled a 2016 Stars and collapsed in the third period, after dominating through two periods.

Are we worried?

Let’s be honest: it’s not like the Sharks sent out their A-Team against the Stars. No Joe Thornton and no Evander Kane for the top line. No Eric Fehr, who has been surprisingly solid on the fourth line, and no Barclay Goodrow, who is the second-best fourth line center this team has. No Joakim Ryan on defense, and while Martin has been fine in his absence, the underlying issues in Martin’s game haven’t just disappeared. Add to it a first-ever NHL game for former NCAA player Dylan Gambrell, and there’s the Sharks’ B-squad.

Unfortunately, the Anaheim Ducks are inching ever closer to taking over that second place position in the Pacific. I’m all for getting these injured guys a little extra R & R, but they can’t lose home ice in the process. The bottom line? They need a win tonight.

So do the Colorado Avalanche, who, for the moment, hold the advantage over the St. Louis Blues for the second Wild Card spot, but could just as easily miss the playoffs.

It’s been a weird season out in Denver. Struggling initially, with their star player in Matt Duchene reluctantly playing 14 games with the club before finally being traded to the Ottawa Senators. Somehow, unloading Matt Duchene, of Team Canada fame, made the Avs...better? Nathan MacKinnon was able to take on a bigger role and has put up an incredible 94 points for Colorado, keeping him in conversations for the Hart Trophy.

There’s still some ground to make up in an admittedly difficult division. It’s in their best interest to bank a win tonight, doing everything in their power to keep Saturday’s match up against the Blues from being the ultimate tiebreaker. Of course, the Blue would have to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks and that half of the puzzle is still out of their control.

First win of the series

These teams have met twice already this season and both games were in a post-Duchene era for the Avs. They’ve been a thorn in the Sharks’ side, taking away a 5-3 victory in January and a 3-1 win in February. It’s the last chance for the Sharks to pull out a win against a team they’re likely hoping they don’t run into later in the postseason.

Obviously, a win for the Avalanche would mean more than just a season series sweep. It’s one step closer toward their third postseason appearance in the last ten years.

Staying healthy

The Sharks aren’t the only ones dealing with late-season injuries. Starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, while defenseman Erik Johnson and Mark Barberio are both recovering from injuries, as well. Barberio has sat out for 33 games and was cleared to play yesterday, so he may slot into the lineup. He posted a career-high 13 points in 44 games earlier this season and without their number one goaltender, the back end will need the extra help. Barberio had an assist against the Sharks in January.

Back up netminder Jonathan Bernier (remember him?) has six wins and a .905 save percentage in 13 games against the Sharks.

No word yet on if Kane or Fehr return for the Sharks tonight, but Fehr was skating at yesterday’s practice, as was Goodrow in an orange no-contact jersey.

Scoring depth

In two games this season, the Avalanche have mostly succeeded in keeping San Jose’s big guns quiet. The best player for the Sharks in these match ups is Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has three points (one goal, two assists) in those two meetings.

In January, Timo Meier, Vlasic, and Joe Thornton put the Sharks on the board, while in February, Joel Ward had the lone goal. This team has depth and they need to rely on it to beat out the Avalanche.

While it seems obvious that the Sharks need to shut down MacKinnon and linemate Mikko Rantanen, a line that created three goals against the Sharks in January, it would be unwise to underestimate the Avs’ depth, as well. Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher gave the Sharks the business back in February while their top line was injured, and even bottom-sixer Long Beach Native Matt Nieto got one past Martin Jones in January.

Bold Prediction: Gambrell gets his first NHL goal tonight.

Check back later for lines and an open gamethread. In the meantime, drop your own bold prediction below!