It’s official. The Anaheim Ducks have earned their third Pacific Division title (and second in a row) with a 5-2 victory over the Sharks.
“It’s cool because it’s a really tough division,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “When you start out, you have certain goals. One is to win the division, then the conference, then the Presidents’ [Trophy], and then you win every round of the playoffs to win the Cup. Those are your seven or eight goals. We’ve got one down, but we have others we want to have.”
With the Pacific Division on the line, you knew it was going to be a good game, with both teams looking playoff intense. What you did not guess was that rookie John Gibson would get his second start in a row after shutting out the Vancouver Canucks two days prior.
Gibson was solid against the Canucks and his teammates were strong in front of him. But Vancouver, who is out of playoff contention, and San Jose are two very different teams. The general thought would have been to put Jonas Hiller in goal.
That was not Boudreau’s thought.
His concern after Tuesday’s practice was “what’s the downside?” If his choice of netminder did not work out, was it going to hurt the team or not really make a difference?
It was a gamble that paid off as Gibson made 36 saves (twice what he had to do in Vancouver) to help the Ducks seal the deal and have home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“It was a lot faster tonight,” said Gibson. “Big game. A lot on the line. Playoff hockey.”
Which brings to mind the question, so who IS going to get the nod in net for the postseason? Frederik Anderson practiced with the team on Tuesday after missing a couple of games with a severe headache. He should be ready to go shortly. If so, Gibson will need to be sent back to Norfolk, which is a pity. Do you have any confidence left in Hiller, whose hot streak came early in the year.
Anderson is not the only one with a headache with this new crazyness.
“He challenged us,” said veteran Shark, Joe Thornton, about Gibson. “We had some good looks, but he was there. They’ve got good goalies they can choose from and that’s a good problem to have.”
The Sharks problem is going to be dealing with the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. There is no love lost between those two teams and they should beat each other up quite nicely.
For now, the Sharks want to put this game behind them.
Jason Demers scored first at 18:17 of the first period, but Corey Perry was able to sneak one in on Antti Niemi with just :03 seconds left in the period.
Patrick Maroon gave Anaheim their first lead at 3:32 of the second period, but Logan Couture tied things up once more at 7:23.
Maroon’s second goal of the game, his first two goal game ever, at 9:35 gave the Ducks their final lead that they never relinquished. It also chased Niemi out of the net in favor of Alex Stalock.
“By the time the third one went in, you could feel the bench get a little deflated,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “We needed to do something at that point, so we made the change and I thought we responded well but just not enough.”
Both of Maroon’s goals were assisted by Teemu Selanne.
“It’s very special,” said Maroon. “It’s my first time doing it. Selanne and [Mathieu] Perreault have been my linemates for most of the year, so they’ve been great for me all year. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would’ve done it. Hats off to them. They helped me out.”
And Maroon certainly helped the Ducks.
Matt Beleskey’s eighth of the year came at 16:46 and his toe drag move was highlight worthy and something more expected of his linemates, Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Beleskey is not a finesse player but he has points in each of the last two games (2-1=3) and 3-2=5 points in his last six games.
The Sharks pulled Stalock when they were on the power play to finish hard with a two man advantage, but Jakob Silfverberg iced the puck into the empty net. Short handed goal. Pacific Division clinched. Free wings at Hooters.
“We want to finish strong,” Selanne said. “That’s only what really matters. Everybody is excited about the playoffs right now. We want to make sure nobody gets hurt, and go from there. We can’t wait until the playoffs start.”
Before that happens, the Ducks still need to play Los Angeles on Saturday and finish off against Colorado at home on Sunday.
“We can enjoy this one and enjoy the things we’ve accomplished so far, but there’s a lot more to be done,” said Perry.
In other notes: Defenseman Cam Fowler returned to the line up after missing 12 games with a lower body injury.