Ranking Sharks’ potential first-round playoff opponents

Sharks’ Paul Martin (7) passes the puck during their game against the Sabres in San Jose on March 14, 2017.

Now that another playoff appearance is assured, Sharks fans can focus on who San Jose will face to start the postseason. We ranked the most desirable opponents for the Sharks in the first round of the 2017 playoffs.

1. Edmonton Oilers

Season series: 2-1 (and two to go), with an OT home win and a road win before falling 4-1 at home in February
Key matchup: Sharks goalie Martin Jones vs. Oilers center Connor McDavid
Analysis: McDavid is a generational talent who would be difficult for any team to contain. But the Oilers’ top young players would be experiencing playoff hockey for the first time, so the Sharks would have an advantage there. Goaltender Cam Talbot has been an absolute workhorse this season, but it’s easy to wonder how much he has left in the tank. The Sharks are also slightly deeper, and as long they find a way to at least slow down McDavid, they could potentially wear a team like that down over a seven-game series.

2. Calgary Flames

Season series: 1-2 so far (and two to go), with a 4-1 win in December and two one-goal losses
Key matchup: Flames goalie Brian Elliott vs. Sharks’ Joe Pavelski/Patrick Marleau
Analysis: The Flames have a balanced scoring attack and an active defense that loves to join the rush and create chances. But the Sharks would again have an experience advantage. Sharks have been forced to play tight-checking, low-scoring hockey for most of the season, and would try to take that type of game into a series with Calgary. This would would probably also indicate that San Jose would have home ice advantage.

3. St. Louis Blues

Season series: 0-3, with a 4-1 loss that started the Sharks’ recent seven-game skid, a 4-0 home loss and a one-goal loss at St. Louis
Key matchup: Sharks defenseman Brent Burns vs. Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko.
Analysis: This series would mean the Sharks have home ice advantage. The Blues have had the Sharks’ number this season, but the Sharks could lean on last year’s series win over the Blues. And if San Jose has a healthy roster, they could create some matchup problems for not-quite-as-deep St. Louis.

4. Nashville Predators

Season series: 1-2, with a blowout home win in December and two recent losses by a combined 10-3 margin
Key matchup: Sharks center Joe Thornton vs. Predators defenseman P.K. Subban
Analysis: The Predators’ speed presented problems for the Sharks in last year’s seven-game playoff series. Those problems haven’t gone away, as evidenced by the 7-2 whipping Nashville put on San Jose last week. The advantage the Sharks might have is their depth and how they could wear down Nashville over the course of a two-week playoff round. Having home ice advantage won’t hurt, as the only way these two teams will meet in the first round is if the Sharks win the Pacific and the Predators are the first wild card team.

5. Anaheim Ducks

Season series: 2-3, with two OT winners and three one-goal losses, including during recent skid
Key matchup: Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf vs. Sharks defenseman Paul Martin
Analysis: This matchup would be tight-checking, low-scoring and physical. The Sharks would have to start a series with the Ducks in Anaheim, as it seems unlikely that the Ducks would fall into a wild card spot if the Sharks capture the Pacific Division. Most likely, if these teams meet, it would mean the Sharks have played mediocre hockey and have fallen into a wild card position, and the Ducks have won the division and are hitting their stride.

6. Chicago Blackhawks

Season series: 2-1, with two home wins and a 4-1 road loss
Key matchup: Pavelski/Marleau vs. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford
Analysis: The Sharks have beaten the Blackhawks at home, but this series would be starting at United Center — which has been mostly a house of horrors for San Jose in recent seasons. Chicago has a 18-5-2 record since the All-Star break, not to mention an impeccable pedigree and loads of championship experience. If you’re the Sharks, you say. ‘Uh, no thanks.’ Maybe in the conference final, but no sooner.

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