The Pacific Division is a wild place. Coming into the home stretch, four teams have a shot at taking the division crown, with the remaining three hovering around eighth place in the Western Conference. The San Jose Sharks and the Phoenix Coyotes are two of the teams caught in the scrum, and on Thursday night they will face off in game that will temporarily elevate the victor into the playoffs.
With a win, the Sharks would retake the division lead from the Dallas Stars. They fell one point behind the Stars after losing 3-1 to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, and dropped from third place in the West to eighth. A bad 2-11 stretch from the end of February through the beginning of March put them in their current predicament. They've won three of their last four, but the damage has been done.
The Coyotes are the odd man out of the playoff picture in the West at the moment, sitting one point behind the Sharks. With a win, they would thrust themselves right back into the playoff picture. They are 3-2 against the Sharks this season, but lost the last meeting, 4-3, in an overtime shootout on Saturday.
Shane Doan returns for Phoenix after serving a three-game suspension for elbowing Jamie Benn. He has five points in four games against San Jose this season. Antti Niemi gave up two goals on 27 shots faced against the Ducks. Thursday's game starts at 10 p.m. ET in Phoenix.