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NHL playoff odds 2019: Sharks have second-best chance at Stanley Cup

NHL playoff odds 2019: Sharks have second-best chance at Stanley Cup

Oddsmakers at Las Vegas casino Caesar's Palace aren't discouraged by the San Jose Sharks stumbling at the finish line of the regular season.

Ahead of the start of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Wednesday, Caesar's gave the Sharks the second-best odds (+800) to win the Cup. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who became the second team in NHL history to win 62 games in a single regular season, is the odds-on favorite (+250). 

The Sharks have better odds than the Vegas Golden Knights (+1000), their first-round opponents, and the Calgary Flames (+1000), the Western Conference's best team in the regular season. That's a surprise, considering San Jose finished the regular season with a 3-8-1 record in its final 12 games after winning each of the previous six. 

Of course, the Sharks were a bit short-handed, missing captain Joe Pavelski (seven games) and All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson (11 games) for significant portions of the stretch run. Additionally, defenseman Radim Simek, a stabilizing presence on San Jose's blue line alongside Brent Burns, missed all 12 of those games. 

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Still, the Sharks at their best arguably were the second-best team in the NHL. From Dec. 1 until March 12, San Jose rattled off a 31-10-3 record (65 points), which was second only to Tampa during that time. The Sharks' 5-on-5 play was particularly strong, and San Jose ranked no worse than fourth in controlling shot attempts, shots, scoring chances and high-danger chances at full strength. 

Pavelski and Karlsson are now back in the lineup, which could go a long towards rediscovering that form. Otherwise, the Sharks' slight edge over the next crop of contenders -- Calgary, Vegas, Boston, St. Louis and Winnipeg are all +1000 -- won't end up meaning all that much.

Could Sharks see Avalanche in NHL playoffs after regular-season finale?

Could Sharks see Avalanche in NHL playoffs after regular-season finale?

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks closed their season series with the Avalanche on the final day of the regular season Saturday. But that doesn’t mean they won’t potentially see Colorado again in the not-too-distant future because of how the Western Conference wild-card race has shaped up.

With the Stars' victory over the Wild on Saturday, Dallas grabbed possession of the first wild-card spot, sticking Colorado in the second spot to face off against the Calgary Flames in the first round. With the way the playoff brackets are orchestrated, the winner of the Sharks' series against the Vegas Golden Knights will face off against the winner of the Flames-Avs series.

If the Sharks advance to the conference semifinals, facing either potential opponent would pose its challenges. San Jose split their regular season series with Calgary 2-2-0, tallying two well-earned wins but also suffering two tough losses, and tied the Flames in goals scored 16-16 apiece. The Flames have also proven to be an emotional matchup for the Sharks this season, stemming from a very physical contest on New Year’s Eve that ended with rookie defenseman Radim Simek suffering a concussion from a late-game hit by forward Sam Bennett. If San Jose makes it through what is sure to be a physical series against Vegas, they’ll certainly be more than prepared for facing Calgary next.

On the off-chance the Sharks and Avalanche both advance to the second round, the matchup is a bit harder to predict. San Jose swept the regular season series with Colorado, although none of their games were blowouts. If the Avs are able to catapult themselves past a Flames team that dominated them all regular season, it could make for an interesting second-round series -- although the Sharks, with their experience and deeper lineup, would likely have the upper hand.

[RELATED: NHL playoff predictions: How far will the Sharks go?]

In the event San Jose advances past the second round, they would have home ice advantage in the Western Conference finals after clinching the second-best record in the West with a victory in their regular-season finale. Given that they registered a 25-11-5 record on home ice during the regular season, and SAP Center has proven to be a hard building to play in come playoff time in the past, you'd have to feel good about the Sharks' chances at that point.

First, of course, it’s a matter of getting past the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1.

Sharks have work cut out for them with three games before NHL playoffs

Sharks have work cut out for them with three games before NHL playoffs

SAN JOSE – The Sharks were asked after snapping a seven-game losing streak Saturday if their win over the Vegas Golden Knights meant they were ready for the playoffs.

Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames showed they still have plenty of work to do. 

That defeat was not the result of just one factor. As coach Peter DeBoer told reporters afterwards, it came down to a whole mix of things.

“You’re coming off an emotional game, back to back, and we’re banged up,” he summarized. 

Whatever the reasons, the game got away from the Sharks after a strong opening 12 minutes. The Flames scored three goals in 1:15, and took a 3-1 lead into the second period. 

Despite playing on the tail end of a back-to-back after an emotional win – and still missing key pieces of their lineup due to injury – the Sharks expected a better result in their fourth-to-last game of the regular season. They needed to put up more of a fight against Calgary, but instead fell short.

“You have to be better in those situations,” said Timo Meier, who scored his 30th goal of the season. “We’ve got to be ready to play this time of year, back-to-back against two good teams. We definitely weren’t ready tonight.”

The loss officially closed the door on the Sharks' slim hopes of Pacific Division and Western Conference crowns. Home-ice advantage is secure in the first round, but San Jose is locked into a matchup with Vegas when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in just over two weeks. 

The Sharks had plenty to play for, but Logan Couture said the team didn't rise to the occasion. 

“It’s a rivalry, this is a team we’re hoping to see down the line. We should’ve had more energy,” he said.

To the Sharks' credit, they started brightly.

All four lines clicked in the first half of the first period. Up until Meier gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead, it appeared they were building off of Saturday's win. 

Then, the Flames tied the game just under three minutes later. 4:12 after taking the lead, the Sharks trailed by two goals. 

“I thought we came out and played well for maybe seven, eight good minutes,” Couture said. “Kind of got a lucky bounce there to score a goal, we’re up 1-0. Then the next thing you know it’s 3-1. It’s in our game right now – we’re scoring goals and in the next shift we’re giving up a couple. We’ve got to figure out a way to fix that.”

It didn’t help that the Sharks had trouble getting out of their own zone once the Flames jumped ahead. In Saturday's win, the Sharks turned the game around with a strong second period. On Sunday, however, they only generated three shots on goal in the entire second stanza, and the Flames scored another goal before the period expired.

“We’re having a tough time breaking out of our end right now,” Couture summarized. “We’re just having a tough time exiting. When we don’t exit, it ends up in our net.” 

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However they fix it, the Sharks have just three more regular season games to do it. San Jose hits the road to face the lottery-bound Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers, before wrapping up the regular season next Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche.

As defenseman Brenden Dillon pointed out, those are two chances for the Sharks to right the ship. 

“We’re going into buildings where teams are going to be playing a little bit loose and those are sometimes the hardest time to play,” he said. “I think these are going to be good tests for us to make sure we’re playing the right way.”