The problem with this scenario is that only one team of the four is in the playoffs, and their opponents have won a collective 164 of 319 games against them this season. Even in their own buildings, they combine to win only about four of every seven games.
The Sharks may well face the best of these teams in the first round, Colorado, who they lost to in overtime. But in the second or later rounds in which they have struggled in the past, their competition will be better.
In other words, the Sharks have to perform at a higher level to avoid solidifying their place in history as a playoff choker.
It seemed under control against the Wild last Friday, but resurfaced against the Avs, The Sharks sleep-walked through a second period that led directly to allowing four unanswered goals, the last of which was scored on a power play that carried over into the third period.
Against the Flames, the Sharks did not match the intensity of their foes in the third period, but they did battle in their own end. That is one area of improvement, as in the victories defenders routinely blocked shots, got clears, sticks on pucks, or tie up shooters at critical moments; Nicklas Wallin, who has received considerable criticism of late in this column, made at least two such plays in memory.
And while Evgeni Nabokov performed poorly on the stat sheet in the two losses, the reason the Sharks gave up five goals in each was careless play and poor decisions with the puck. (In fact, the larger concern with Nabby is his excessive playing time, since he is nearly four years older than the oldest goalie to play more than 68 regular season games and win the Stanley Cup outside of the Original Six era.)
But that is just it: San Jose plays well in victory, then poorly (at least for long stretches) in defeat. They do not appear to have learned anything from the regular season losses and losing playoff record (20-21) post-lockout--you have to play determined, smart hockey on virtually every shift to win.
That is why no matter where the Sharks finish the regular season, they will remain the fourth best team in the Western Conference until they can prove they have corrected these flaws. And if they have not gotten the message after nearly four years, what are the chances the light bulb goes on in the next week?