A 14-game unbeaten streak wouldn't have meant nearly as much if San Jose didn't extend it to 15, especially considering how difficult it has been for the Sharks to get positive results against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Almost inexplicably, the Sharks had lost the last six meetings to Anaheim on home ice. Ditto against the Dallas Stars. As bright and shiny as their record is, there was a lot going on upstairs under those helmets.
Suffice to say, the Sharks needed this – a 2-1 win and a franchise-record shot advantage of 43-13 – more than anyone can imagine.
"We can play the same game against Anaheim, Detroit, Montreal or Ottawa – all of the top teams we've played – it gives our guys confidence that you'll have that in big games," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said.
"I thought our effort was tremendous," winning goalie Evgeni Nabokov said. "We were hungry, we wanted to prove we're a good enough team to beat them."
The Sharks have been touted as Stanley Cup contenders for the last three years. Each of the last two runs were aborted in the second round when adversity beat the Sharks as much as the opponent. San Jose looked like it needed a psychiatrists' couch as much as a new power play.
This season didn't start out a whole lot differently either. While the Sharks were road warriors, they couldn't win at home. They struggled on the power play. They couldn't score goals. Veterans were underachieving. The signs were there for unmet expectations.
Then Patrick Marleau started to score. Jonathan Cheechoo got healthy and started to score. Doug Wilson pulled a major trade to land Brian Campbell and the defense had the puck-mover and dynamic threat it was lacking.
The Sharks have not lost since Campbell arrived, now 12-0-1 with the red-head patrolling the backline. Nabokov has been an iron horse. Friday was his 71st game of the season. He's thrust himself into a two-man race for the Vezina Trophy and Nabokov is in the conversation for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, too.
And all that took another jump because of the show the team put on against the Ducks.
"The guys in this room respect the fact they are Stanley Cup champions, and they are as good as they are, we won't take them lightly no matter how well we play," Jeremy Roenick said. "We have to make sure we continue this progressive climb we're on."
Roenick is one of the season's unsung heroes. Looking as if he was done with the game after two disappointing seasons in Los Angeles and Phoenix, he got a late-summer call from his first roommate – Doug Wilson – and has fulfilled every promise he made to the San Jose GM. Roenick has toed the line, stayed away from the post-game beer and he's been a non-disruptive force while producing at the same time.
His 13th goal of the season came 17 seconds into San Jose's second 5-on-3 of the game. No. 508 for his career – moving Roenick out of a tie with Jean Beliveau and into 36th place alone on the all-time goal-scoring list – at 1:12 of the third period stood as the game-winner. The Ducks didn't get a sniff the rest of the way.
"We've struggled with this team all year," Roenick said. "We've had good games, some that have gone to shootouts, but going into the playoffs we have to prove to ourselves we can beat these teams."
Defensively, the Sharks couldn't have been any better. Granted the Ducks are without Corey Perry and Chris Pronger, they generated only two shots on goal in the final 34 minutes of the game. The last two came late in the second period – Travis Moen at 19:30 after Teemu Selanne's at 18:24 – and that was after a lull since Brad May's at 5:55.
"We understood the magnitude of a game like this," Ron Wilson said. "It wasn't do or die, it was more just go play our game and show them how much we've changed since the last time we played them."
Repeat, Anaheim did not muster a shot in the third period.
"That's the one thing we take pride in on this team, our defensive play," Joe Thornton said. "Against a well-coached, skilled team that gets no shots in the third says something about our team."
"To be honest with you, I can't remember ever playing in a game like this," Nabokov said. "It wasn't just the way we outshot them, but the way we competed was just unbelievable."
- San Jose