SAN JOSE — In what may turn out to have been a first-round playoff preview, the San Jose Sharks knocked off the surging Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night at the Shark Tank, 4-2.
And while the Sharks have been on a roll the entire second half, the Ducks, led by the now Hart Trophy candidate in right wing Corey Perry, have been the more talked about squad in recent weeks. Perry’s 46 goals lead the NHL and over his past 11 games, the all-star winger has accumulated a staggering 21 points.
With help from his linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, Anaheim’s top-line wasted no time carrying their hot play into the contest with San Jose. At just the 3:21 mark of the opening period, Perry’s pass from along the goal-line found a wide open Bobby Ryan at the opposite edge of the crease for what proved to be an easy tap-in past Sharks netminder Antti Niemi.
“You have to give them credit,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “They came out strong but we weren’t very pleased with our start, I didn’t think we were all in.”
Anaheim added a power-play goal later in the period when Lubomir Visnovsky’s slap shot from the point found it’s way past Niemi but as McLellan alluded to, much of San Jose’s poor start came due to self-inflicted mistakes.
Through 18 minutes of the first stanza the Sharks had just two shots on goal before a final flurry on the last two shifts closed the shot gap from 7-2 in Anaheim’s favor to just 7-6.
The Ducks were playing well but nowhere near a dominant level, as the game itself lacked any real sizzle during the first period. In fact, for what usually is a rough and tumble game between division rivals, there were barely any post-whistle skirmishes until the last 10 seconds of regulation.
However, in the middle 20 minutes, the Sharks got their legs going and brought some much needed energy into a game that had very little pop in the first.
After Dany Heatley chipped home a backhand shot from right in front of Ducks goaltender Ray Emery at the 2:01 mark, the Sharks started to dictate the flow of the game. A violent hit about six minutes in by Devin Setoguchi behind the Anaheim net helped keep the momentum in the San Jose favor as the more up-tempo pace in the period certainly seemed to favor San Jose.
For the second period the Sharks peppered Emery with 13 shots and at little past the half way point of the game, the man of the past month for the Sharks, Patrick Marleau tied the score at 2-2. After his original shot in close caromed off the face of Ryan, Marleau parked himself in front of Emery where he was able to backhand the rebound of a Setoguchi shot under the stretched out Anaheim netminder.
In the third, the Sharks would capitalize on their lone power-play opportunity of the game when a brilliant rush by Heatley led to a holding penalty on Anaheim’s Jason Blake. As many media have noticed, Heatley’s play the last few games has gone up a few notches even though the points continue to be hard to come by for the former two-time 50 goal scorer, as they have been all season.
“The break from the suspension actually maybe helped a little bit,” said Heatley. “Playing with [Couture] and [Clowe] it’s fun, and I feel good out there.”
On the ensuing man-advantage, the Sharks’ No. 1 unit looked razor sharp despite being on just their first and only opportunity of the game over midway through the third period. Crisp passing led to Setoguchi burying a one-time feed from Dan Boyle at the left point that beat Emery high to the blocker.
“We didn’t draw many penalties, we drew the one but our power-play’s been pretty effective as of lately,” chimed Setoguchi. “We got one there and it won us the game.”
A strong but questionable hit late in the game by Douglas Murray on Visnovsky knocked the NHL’s leading scorer amongst defenseman out for the remainder of the game. No immediate response to the hit was taken by the Ducks but after Marleau had sealed the game with an empty net goal, a final whistle with four second left led to the only noteworthy skirmish of the evening.
George Parros received two minutes for roughing as well as a 10 minute misconduct. Line-mate Jarkko Ruutu likewise got 10 minutes as did Ben Eager for the Sharks.
With the victory, the Sharks remain one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings (who also won Saturday) for second place in the Western Conference as each team has five games to play. Anaheim, on the other hand, stays put at 93 points and sit in seventh in the West which would link them with San Jose in a first round bout if the spots hold up.
Notes: Murray tied a franchise record with nine hits.