Mar 19, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin (23) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Around The Pacific: The Stretch

There’s just two weeks left in the NHL regular season. The Dallas Stars still hold a tenuous lead in the division, the Sharks, Coyotes, and Kings are all right behind them, and they’re all fighting for playoff spots. It’s the stretch run, it’s the final chance for teams to prove themselves. The upcoming week will make or break many teams, so let’s take a look at where they are heading into it.

Mar 22, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars right wing Radek Dvorak (20) and center Vernon Fiddler (38) amd defenseman Philip Larsen (36) and defenseman Adam Pardy (27) celebrate Fiddlers goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider (not pictured) during the third period at the American Airlines Center. The Canucks defeated the Stars 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

1. Dallas Stars: (41-29-5, 87 points)

Since Last Week: The Stars dropped a dismal effort to the Vancouver Canucks, but picked up crucial victories over the Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames. With a little help from other teams, the Stars continue to hold down the first place position in the Pacific, taking the points percentage tiebreaker over the Coyotes.

Trending: Up. The Stars are coming fresh off a victory over the desperate Calgary Flames. When you can soundly defeat a desperate team, things are looking up. Of course, the Stars have to turn around and play them again tonight, but more on that below.

Looking Ahead: The Stars will finish of the home and home TONIGHT in Calgary, and then travel to Edmonton. Following those two games is a back to back that sees the Stars take on Vancouver and San Jose. It’s safe to say this stretch will determine the season. It’s make it or break it territory, and having owned the Flames and Oilers this year, the Stars know they need to pick up those first four points on this road trip.

Mar 20, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; The Phoenix Coyotes celebrate theit goal against the Dallas Stars during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

2. Phoenix Coyotes: (37-26-13, 87 points)

Since Last Week: The Coyotes let opportunity slip through their fingers more than once over the last week. With a record of 1-1-2 they stayed alive and tied for first in the Pacific, but that’s just not going to cut it. They are fortunate for those OT points, they’d be dead in the water without them, but this team is in danger of entering a slump. Fortunately they have a few days off to regroup and finish the rest of the season strong. At least, that’s the hope.

Trending: Neutral. The Coyotes have just five games left, but don’t play again until Thursday, which will allow the rest of the Pacific to catch up to them in games played. They’ll have to sit back and likely watch their rivals pass them in the standings, and it won’t be easy. Who know how they’ll respond when they finally get back on the ice. It’s a crucial time for the Coyotes, and they’ll be scoreboard watching with a keen sense of desperation (and frustration) every night.

Looking Ahead: The Coyotes will only play two games this week, one against the Sharks on Thursday and the other against the Ducks on Saturday night. This could end up being a couple of games that decide the season for the Coyotes. The Sharks and Kings are right behind them and can pass the Coyotes easily over this upcoming week. If they lose to the Sharks, and are upset by the spoiler Ducks, it might be curtains closed on the Coyotes.

Mar 24, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings players celebrate after a goal by Kings defenseman Slava Voynov (26) against the Boston Bruins during the third period at the Staples Center. The Boston Bruins defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

3. Los Angeles Kings: (37-26-12, 86 points)

Since Last Week: The Kings won two straight over the Sharks and Blues, crucial victories that brought the winning streak for Los Angeles to six straight, but they dropped a massive game to Boston when they had the Pacific Division lead for the taking. That loss is going to sting, but the Kings impressive streak (and most importantly, renewed ability to score) have put them right into the mix for a Pacific Division title.

Trending: Up. Sure, they dropped that game to Boston, but that six game winning streak was impressive, featuring victories over San Jose, St. Louis, Nashville, and Detroit. That’s not something that can just be ignored. This team is clicking at the right time, and unless they go into a slump, the Kings are setting themselves up for a likely spot in the playoffs.

Looking Ahead: Much like the Stars, the Kings are kicking off a four game road trip that will take them through Western Canada and then into Minnesota. The Kings will kick things off TONIGHT against the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver is a western powerhouse, and you can bet every non-King fan is rooting the Canucks on to keep them subdued. After tonight, they will face Calgary, Edmonton, and then Minnesota. Three extremely winnable games against two teams who are completely out of the race and another who might be come game time.

Mar 24, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe (29) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during shootouts at HP Pavilion. San Jose defeated Phoenix 4-3 in shootouts. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

4. San Jose Sharks: (38-27-10, 86 points)

Since Last Week: The Sharks began the week with a loss against Anaheim (ouch) and then another versus Los Angeles, but bounced back with two wins versus Boston and Phoenix. They’ve been the biggest disappointment in the Western Conference this year, with many expecting them to win the Stanley Cup, or at least challenge for it. This team is on life support, sitting in fourth place of the Pacific and ninth place in the Western Conference.

Trending: Neutral. They split the week and ended on a high note which is definitely encouraging, but can they keep it up? That’s definitely the question, and it all starts tonight in one of the biggest contests of the night. They’re looking up at the playoff spots and that’s not the position they want to be in.

Looking Ahead: The Sharks and Avalanche will face off tonight in a must win for both teams. Colorado, who also has 86 points, sits one place behind the Sharks, and can pass them with a victory tonight. The Sharks meanwhile, can continue burying the Avalanche and inch closer to a playoff spot (and possibly be in one) with a victory tonight as well. After tonight, the Sharks will have six games left, all against Pacific Division teams. That’s going to be a crazy stretch that will surely cause chaos within the division.

5. Anaheim Ducks: (32-33-11, 75 points)

Since Last Week: I’m only covering this team out of necessity at this point, but the Ducks didn’t have a bad week at all. They won two straight against San Jose and St. Louis, and then barely lost to Boston. They are embracing the role of spoiler and are living up to the name. That victory over the Sharks was a hard pill to swallow for San Jose, and the Ducks definitely not ready to go away despite being essentially eliminated from playoff contention.

Trending: Up. They’re playing good hockey against good teams all while letting the future talent get long looks. This team isn’t to be taken lightly down the stretch, they could very well end someone’s season in the right circumstance.

Looking Ahead: The Ducks have a couple days off before a rematch against San Jose on Wednesday night. If they can pull off a win there it will be a crushing defeat for San Jose, potentially a season breaking one. It’s an interesting time for Ducks fans, who have no post season to look forward to, but they seem to embracing this spoiler role. Also, one more year for Teemu Selanne? Let’s hope so.

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Tags: Anaheim Ducks Bobby Ryan Dallas Stars Dave Tippet Drew Doughty Jamie Benn Jeff Carter Joe Pavelski Joe Thornton Jonathan Quick Kari Lehtonen Logan Couture Los Angeles Kings Loui Eriksson Michael Ryder Mike Richards Mike Smith Phoenix Coyotes Radim Vrbata Ray Whitney Reilly Smith Ryan Getzlaf San Jose Sharks Teemu Selanne

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