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Wild Wild West — Pacific Division Race To The Top

By Andy Eide

If you’re a fan of tight races, nervous scoreboard watching and meaningful March hockey games, then the NHL’s Pacific Division should be right up your alley.

Heading into the weekend, the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames are locked in a close race for not only the division but also, the top spot in the Western Conference. The Sharks enter Friday’s action with a one-point lead over the Flames, but Calgary has a game in hand and can jump back ahead of the race with a victory at home Friday night against the New York Rangers.

Neither team has been willing to yield in the division race as San Jose has won seven of its last ten while the Flames have won six of ten.

The prize for winning the division is more than hanging a new banner in your home arena. It also gives you an easier first-round match up in the Western Conference playoffs, and allows you to avoid the equally hot Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.

Both teams have been tough at home and the Sharks play seven of their remaining 11 games at the SAP Center. Calgary has seven of its 12 left on the schedule at home. These clubs are similar in that they both have top offenses and at times, uneven goaltending.

Something has to give and it just might on March 31st when they will meet for the last time in the regular season in San Jose. Put that game on your radar.

Here is the latest news surrounding your favorite division:

Hot Stone in Vegas

The Vegas Golden Knights made a big splash at the trade deadline in acquiring winger Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. Not only has the team played well since that trade, but Stone has been a big reason why.

In the seven games he’s played with Vegas, he’s scored twice and added a pair of assists. He’s played mostly with Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny and in the seven games together, he’s improved their possession game, giving Vegas higher production out of its second line.

Stone, with Vegas, is only shooting at 9.1-percent, well below the 19.3 he shot with Ottawa and he’s never shot below 15-percent in a full season. He’s already hit the 30-goal mark on the season and as he plays more in Vegas, and that shooting percentage rises to his norm, watch out Pacific Division.

The Quinn Hughes watch is over, or is it?

In Vancouver, the Canucks have fallen out of the Western Conference playoff race but had some big news this week as 2018 first-round draft pick, Quinn Hughes, signed with the club. The Michigan defenseman was taken seventh overall by the Canucks and will now finish the season with Vancouver.

He’s loaded with speed, play-making ability and edge of your seat excitement. While he is in the Canucks fold, his debut date is still in question.

Quinn suffered an ankle injury while with Michigan and the Canucks aren’t going to rush him into the lineup. The Canucks are saying it’s a bruise and listed him as week-to-week. The delay in him playing may be a blessing in disguise for Vancouver general manager Jim Benning. Vancouver has 12 games left on the season and if Hughes were to play in 11, he would be eligible for the 2021 Seattle expansion draft and need to be protected. This injury gives the Canucks a valid reason to play him in less than 11 and allow them to protect one more player that they might not otherwise would have been able to.

Howling Coyotes

Don’t look now, but the Arizona Coyotes are in a playoff position.

After suffering through a slew of injuries this season, Arizona is getting healthy, and hot, at the right time. Winners of eight in the last ten contests, the Coyotes are holding down the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. They enter the weekend with a three-point lead over the Minnesota Wild for that last spot, so there is still work to do.

How have they done it?

A big part of their success has been goalie Darcy Kuemper. The former Minnesota Wild netminder took over the number one goalie slot for the Coyotes thanks to the injury to Antti Raanta and is having the best year of his career.

His goals-against of 2.48 and save-percentage of .921 are both above his career averages and if you did deeper, he’s among the NHL’s top goalies at stopping the puck. His high-danger save-percentage is .823 which puts him in the top ten of goalies who have played in more than 40 games this season.

If the Coyotes end up in the post season, they can thank the 28-year-old from Saskatoon, Sask.

Pacific Division goal of the week

The Sharks took on the leaders of the stacked Central Division this week and skated away with a dramatic win. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski was the hero when he tipped in a goal with 3.6 seconds left in the game.

It was goal number 37 for Pavelski who is just four away from his career high, set in 2013-2014. Not bad for a guy who is going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

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