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Wild at Sharks Preview: One last time

So long, regular season.

Feb 25, 2018; Saint Paul, MN, USA; San Jose Sharks forward Melker Karlsson (68) looks up at Minnesota Wild forward Mikko Koivu (9) in the third period at Xcel Energy Center. Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Game 82.

This is it for the season and what is there to say?

It’s been a weird year, that’s for sure. Looking back to game one, this team had a big question mark over them. What would they look like without Patrick Marleau? Was Joe Thornton healthy enough? Could the kids step up?

Were the Sharks still going to be able to be a contender, after everything?

The ways they've answered those questions have surprised and delighted us.

From the moment Marleau penned his name to a Maple Leafs contract, the mantra has been "Replacing him is a group effort." Sure, in theory, that seems simple enough, but we figured it would fall on the forwards to make up those 27 goals. Who could've expected career offensive numbers from multiple players on the blueline to fill that gap?

And Joe Thornton. Let's be honest with ourselves: the man wasn't healthy to start this year and that made us nervous. But he pressed on. His impact on this team is unquestionable and nearly irreplaceable.

Nearly. When down went Jumbo once again, just as he'd finally started looking like himself again, that hovering question mark loomed over the season again. The Sharks without Marleau and Thornton? Seemed like time to scrap the whole season and start hitting the John Tavares market.

Miraculously, Team Teal held on to the second place spot, even without their franchise center and winger. Doug Wilson knew it wasn't enough to just hold on, though.

Trade deadline acquisitions rarely impact a team the way one would hope. Eric Fehr didn't seem promising, but somehow solidified a fourth line that has been in flux all year. Evander Kane has easily had the most impact of any trade deadline move in the entire league. His point per game production has given us a glimpse into how this team can move forward in a future without Joe Thornton.

Part of that future is the kids. Chris Tierney, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, Tim Heed, and Joakim Ryan have given us plenty to look forward to, as the Sharks do their best to stay competitive for as long as possible.

All of that has led to here. Game 82. It's been a long road. The one ahead is longer.

This Minnesota team isn't all too different. An aging core, franchise players coming back from injury, a newer coaching staff — there are certainly parallels. The Wild have scraped and clawed their way through this season and they're a worthy team to close out the year against.

The Sharks are a better team, though. Time to show them that.

Holes in the defense

The poor Wild can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries. Top defenseman Ryan Suter is out with a fractured fibula and his 20+ minutes a night are some big minutes to cover. But it’s not just his minutes that the Wild’s blueline has to cover. Jared Spurgeon, the Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the Minnesota Hockey Club, is day-to-day with a partial tear in his right hamstring and did not make the road trip to California with the team. No doubt that Bruce Boudreau is resting a key piece of their defense before the postseason, but no Suter and no Spurgeon leaves a pretty good gap for the Sharks to work their way to the back of the net.

Home Ice

Not only is home ice in the playoffs on the line, but the Sharks have the home court advantage tonight. Minnesota has a 17-20-3 record when playing away from Xcel Energy Center, while the Sharks look pretty good with a 25-12-3 record at SAP Center. They’ve got to leverage that home ice advantage tonight to maintain that extra edge in the postseason.

Just a single point separates the Sharks (100) from the Ducks (99) and the Kings (98) aren’t out of the picture, either.

There’s a long list of scenarios with these three teams all so close, but here’s a few possible outcomes:

Sharks win, any outcome for Ducks and Kings — Sharks clinch second.

Sharks lose, Ducks lose in overtime, Kings win — tied at 100 points, the Kings have the ROW advantage (44) and would take second. Sharks would take third (ROW 40) and Ducks (ROW 39) would be in the first Wild Card spot.

Sharks lose, Ducks win, Kings win — Ducks (101) in second, Kings (100, ROW 44) in third, Sharks (100, ROW 40) in Wild Card.

Sharks lose in overtime, Ducks win — San Jose holds the tiebreaker, would still have second place

The bottom line? It’s still too close to give this one up.

Finish strong

There's still that one question looming over the Sharks: are they still contenders?

To answer a question with another question: After everything this season, how can they not be?

It's the last time we'll see the Sharks before that playoffs logo is on the ice. Emotions are high. While we can't wait for that playoff buzz, this game can't be brushed off. Get in, get it done, and we can come back for game one at SAP Center.

Bold prediction: The Sharks win, but Zach Parise catches the snitch. Are y'all still reading these at game 82?