NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Sharks have only four games and a few practices left before the start of the NHL playoffs. From coach Pete DeBoer's perspective, that's enough time for his team to find its stride.
The Sharks open up a two-game trip Saturday in Nashville against the Predators, and after a sloppy 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, will likely need to run the table and get some help to climb into one of the top two spots in the Pacific Division.
While gaining home-ice advantage for the first round would be nice -- despite their lackluster 17-19-3 record at SAP Center this season -- the Sharks also are turning more of their attention to the bigger picture of getting their game dialed in by mid-April.
"Let's be honest. Everybody knows kind of where we're at, so that's the reality of the situation, too," DeBoer said after Thursday's loss. "You can talk about it all you want, and of course everyone wants to win 10 in a row going into the playoffs. But I'm confident our group will have its game in the right place when that starts."
The possibility of the Sharks gaining home-ice advantage for the first round seems a little more remote each day.
They entered Friday four points back of Anaheim and five back of Los Angeles, and finish off a brief but difficult trip with a game against surging Minnesota on Tuesday.
Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said it's nice his team doesn't have to worry about clinching a playoff spot anymore, "but we're still trying to improve our game, we're trying to come in rolling. We have that group in here that we believe in. We'll keep ramping it up here and be ready."
Without much of a carrot to chase after, staying sharp over the next eight days before the end of the regular season might be the Sharks' biggest challenge.
"We still have something to play for," forward Patrick Marleau said. "We need to get right back at it and get that focus back and play our game."
The return of defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who missed the last eight games of March with a lower-body injury, would help, although Dylan DeMelo has filled in well as a partner to Justin Braun. The Sharks were 4-4 last month without Vlasic.
The Sharks expect Vlasic back before the playoffs start and are hopeful he could play in a game by the time their regular season ends April 9 against Arizona
The Sharks hope by that time they've already started to trend in the right direction. Even if the last couple games don't mean very much.
"When you're not playing for something ... it's not the same," DeBoer said. "I'm not concerned about it. I think we'll be in the right spot come the right time."