2. Vegas Golden Knights
All San Jose Sharks fans remember last year’s screeching halt to their 2018 Stanley Cup playoff run.
It came at the hand of the Vegas Golden Knights, riding a surge of unwavering momentum and the back of extraordinary goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in their inaugural season, only to fall in the Stanley Cup Final to the eventual champion Washington Capitals.
The Vegas Golden Knights are a real test, not just for the Sharks, but all Western Conference teams looking to cruise through their playoff runs.
No one expected Gerard Gallant’s team to make the playoffs in their first year of existence into the league, let alone potential back-to-back postseason campaigns to kick-start their young and thriving franchise.
However, this year’s team has a different feeling. They’re not a bunch of misfits stringing miraculous numbers and sensational performances together like their 2017-2018 season.
Rather, the Golden Knights have solidified a powerful top-six with the strong support of the defensive core, led by Marc-Andre Fleury.
In the standings, Vegas sits quietly in third place with 87 points in the Pacific Division. However, the reigning Western Conference champions still stand within striking distance to sneak up a spot or two as the final few weeks of crunch time hit.
After reeling in the biggest fish at the NHL trade deadline in Mark Stone, Vegas has been hot, as of late, going 10-1 in their last 11 games, which includes a convincing 7-3 victory over Team Teal at SAP Center last Monday.
When combining the other regular season battles, the Sharks carry a 1-2-0 record against Vegas, surrendering 15 goals in the process while only getting six in their favor.
Now, why is Vegas ranked second on this list?
Well, the lingering factor that points to San Jose’s side is the fact that Fleury is dealing with a lower-body injury.
Fleury remains day-to-day despite showing improvement in his recovery. Fleury’s lower-body issue doesn’t seem too serious, but getting locked back into the right mental focus is crucial when the playoffs roll around.
The Sharks are facing a similar scenario with Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski on the shelf. However, the Sharks captain is working his way back effectively while the two-time Norris Trophy winner is close to reaching a 100% status.
Expect these two teams locked-in and fully loaded for the final week of the regular season. With one meeting left on March 30th, it’s of the utmost importance for the San Jose Sharks to regain their composure and confidence before going head-to-head with their potentially toughest first-round opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.