SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—The San Jose Sharks worked for six arduous months to earn home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks took it away in 60 minutes, thanks to the peerless puck-stopping of a goalie new to the NHL postseason, but not to big-game pressure.
After two periods of the tight-checking hockey expected in this meeting between California rivals, Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer scored a power-play goal early in the third on a pass from Getzlaf, who then roared out of the penalty box to score his own goal with 2:25 to play.
With little panache and ample patience, the Ducks showed why they were feared by every potential Western Conference opponent, even after their unimpressive regular season. The 2007 champions needed a late surge just to get into this Stanley Cup tournament, finishing 26 points behind San Jose—but that big number was erased by Hiller and his teammates.
“It’s sure easier to start with a win,” said Hiller, who took the Ducks’ starting job from Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere this season. “Now, San Jose almost has to win the next one, so that’s some pressure on them, but they’re a great team.”
Hiller wasn’t intimidated by the deafening crowd at the Shark Tank, claiming he’s heard similar volume during playoff games with Davos in the Swiss A-League. He thought “the intensity, it’s a little higher” in the NHL postseason, but “it’s not too bad.”
Backed by their Swiss goalie’s flawless play and excellent penalty-killing, the playoff-tested Ducks put an early playoff scare into the Sharks, who won the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season with 117 points. Game 2 is Sunday night at the Shark Tank.
“There are things we did well, but the game really could have gone either way,” Niedermayer said. “(Hiller) stepped up and made a couple of saves, and they hit a couple of posts. They came at us pretty good, but we still felt pretty good about how we played.”
Evgeni Nabokov made 15 saves for San Jose in the opener of the first postseason series between two California clubs in four decades. San Jose won the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history, but the Sharks realize it counts for nothing in the playoffs—and they looked like the less-experienced club for most of the night at a largely somber Shark Tank.
“We felt like we (controlled) the majority of the play, but that’s just hockey,” Joe Thornton said. “We’ve got to keep people in front of the net, keep getting shots, and it’ll work for us. … We’ve got a good veteran club here, and last year we lost Game 1 against Calgary. We’ve got to think about this for 5 minutes, and then we’ll move on.”
Still, the loss puts the Sharks under postseason scrutiny yet again after three straight second-round exits. Their 0-for-6 power play won’t stop another round of questions about their mental toughness.
“We didn’t create too many second opportunities,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, an assistant on Detroit’s Stanley Cup winners last season. “That’s their goalie doing a great job around their net, and us doing a poor job. Their goaltender swallowed a lot of pucks. We obviously have to be better in that area.”
San Jose showcased its superior skill while outshooting the Ducks by a 2-to-1 margin, but the Sharks rarely threatened to get any of those chances past Hiller. Coach Randy Carlyle stuck with Hiller instead of going back to Giguere, the 2003 playoff MVP, who watched the game from a folding chair behind the glass opposite the Anaheim bench.
“Jonas is more than just a raw rookie,” Carlyle said. “He played in some World Championships and the Swiss League, and won championships. … He’s a very calm guy. He doesn’t get too high or too low.”
Through the first 45 scoreless minutes, the Sharks resembled the squad that coasted to the close of the regular season after clinching the division title a month earlier. San Jose struggled to string together consecutive clean passes, and had difficulty keeping the puck in Anaheim’s zone, even during power plays.
Niedermayer, the Ducks’ other Conn Smythe winner, had the touch to break open a scoreless game after the Ducks got a man-advantage from a foolish tripping penalty by Jonathan Cheechoo. Getzlaf, the playmaker who had four assists in Anaheim’s most recent visit to San Jose, made a sharp pass to the opposite faceoff circle for a one-timer by Niedermayer, who slipped his low shot past Nabokov with 14:42 left.
Getzlaf committed an elbowing penalty with 4 1/2 minutes to play, but Anaheim’s penalty-killers held on. Getzlaf then came straight to mid-ice from the penalty box, accepted a pass from Mike Brown after Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s turnover, and ripped a shot past Nabokov.
The Sharks scratched 43-year-old F Claude Lemieux in favor of enforcer Jody Shelley. Lemieux missed 19 of San Jose’s final 21 regular-season games with a jaw injury and as a healthy scratch. Shelley barely touched the ice, and Anaheim enforcer George Parros also played sparingly. … Giguere has the highest playoff winning percentage among active goalies at 33-17 (.660). … San Jose lost just five games in regulation at the Shark Tank during the regular season.