Pacific: Four team vying for first in division

By Andrew Knoll

Photo: Los Angeles Kings players Willie Mitchell (#33) and Anze Kopitar celebrate a goal during the Kings 4-2 win over Nashville on Saturday (courtesy of

Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

Just when it seemed the Pacific Division could not get any tighter, this weekend’s action left four teams separated by a single point.

Dallas and Phoenix stand in a points tie atop the division with 83 apiece while Los Angeles and San Jose each have 82 points.

The Pacific has bunched up as the scorching hot Coyotes and Stars have leveled off a bit just as the once underachieving Sharks and Kings have picked up their play.

Los Angeles has won four straight games and seven out of their last nine. They have received much more even and consistent contributions throughout their lineup of late.

They got five points from their defense Friday against Anaheim and six points from their bottom-six forwards as well as a win from their backup goalie Saturday against Nashville.

"I think everyone can feel it. I think everyone is on the same page and that’s why we’ve been winning lately," Kings No. 2 goalie Jonathan Bernier said. "We want to get that push and make it to the playoffs. Once you’re in, you never know."

San Jose has won three of their last four. They had been mired in what seemed like a never-ending lull. It started during a woeful two-win, nine-game road trip and spilled over into a five-game losing streak after just one home win.

For the Sharks and the other three Pacific playoff contenders, the postseason is already underway.

It was a playoff game for us,” Martin Havlat said after Sunday’s overtime win against Detroit. “We’re battling for a playoff spot right now. Every point we can get is very important.”

After a 9-0-1 stretch in which they were the hottest team in hockey,Dallas had the attention of a competitive market that featured the defending NBA champion Mavericks, American League champion Rangers and, of course, the Cowboys.

They had a record crowd of 19,099 on hand to see them drop their second straight game 4-1 to Chicago Sunday, making the divisional race even more intriguing.

I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue, which is no excuse,” Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. “Sometimes you just go out there and you’re a little brain-dead with the puck. We were forcing plays and trying to get it all back in one shift instead of what we had success with recently, grinding and grinding.”

In the desert, the often forgotten Coyotes sent a reminder they were still in the hunt after they followed their brilliant February with four straight losses this month. They fell down 2-0 against Edmonton, but rallied to win Sunday.

Every game matters so much for us right now,” defenseman Keith Yandle told reporters. “If we had played loose and the way the Oilers wanted to play, then we would have lost by a lot of goals. We fumbled it around a bit in the first period, but I think we played our game more as the game wore on.” 

All this congestion comes just as a heavy schedule of intra-divisional games arrives down the stretch.

This week, Phoenix will face Dallas Tuesday and San Jose Saturday. Anaheim will visit San Jose Monday and the Sharks will play at Los Angeles Tuesday, their first of three meetings with the Kings in the next three weeks.

Pacific Division Notes

A healthy Havlat played the hero for San Jose, scoring in regulation and again in overtime to top the Red Wings 3-2 Saturday … The Kings swept their weekend matchups at Anaheim and hosting Nashville, taking each game by a 4-2 margin. Mike Richards scored his first goal in 26 games Friday, Dustin Penner scored his first in 13 games Saturday … The Ducks got Corey Perry and Luca Sbisa back from injury but still fell 4-2 to Los Angeles Friday and 3-1 to Nashville Sunday in lackluster efforts … The Stars’ recent success against Chicago did not continue as the Blackhawks dominated them 4-1 in Dallas Friday. They were missing Sheldon Souray and Radek Dvorak … Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata returned to the Phoenix lineup for their 3-2 comeback victory in a shootout with Edmonton Sunday. They have alternated wins and losses in their last six after losing four straight.