SAN JOSE, Calif. – From the slick no-look pass behind the net to the smart cross-ice feed during 4-on-4 play, Ryan Getzlaf constantly kept the Anaheim Ducks one pass ahead of San Jose.
Getzlaf’s four-point performance earned him Anaheim’s single-season assist record, and he also kept the Ducks on a roll that seems to have them headed straight back to the post-season.
Getzlaf set up goals by Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, and the Ducks dominated in the NHL’s toughest road arena with a 5-2 victory over the league-leading Sharks on Saturday night.
Less than three minutes into the first leg of a home-and-home series between the longtime Pacific Division rivals, Getzlaf moved behind the net and instinctively flipped a pass back in the opposite direction, past Joe Thornton and straight to the stick of Ryan, who scored the first of his two goals.
“I never said anything,” said Ryan, whose two goals included the 30th of his second NHL season. “He has eyes on the back of his head, and he saw me.”
The play was an early indication of the game’s one-sided tenor – and of the urgency felt by the Ducks, who were in danger of falling out of the playoff race just two years after winning the Stanley Cup before embarking on a stellar streak of 10 wins in 12 games.
“It’s a situation where I know he’s there,” Getzlaf said of Ryan, who has carved out a permanent place opposite Perry on Anaheim’s top line. “I may not know he’s right beside the net, but I know he’s back there somewhere, so I can throw it and trust that he’s going to make the play on it.”
Anaheim stayed in seventh place in the Western Conference, one point behind sixth-place Columbus and two ahead of Nashville and St. Louis with three games to play. The revitalized, veteran Ducks now are looming as a nightmare first-round matchup – perhaps for the Sharks, who had won three of four against their longtime rivals before Getzlaf, Ryan and Perry shredded their defence.
“They were flat-out dominant,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the Ducks’ high-scoring line. “They were the top players in the game. We had last change, we could have matched anybody we wanted, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They were playing that well.”
Anaheim will host the Sharks on Sunday night.
Mike Brown also scored, and Jonas Hiller made 28 saves for Anaheim, which has scored 20 goals during a four-game winning streak. But the Ducks’ offence revolved around Getzlaf, the playmaking centre who increased his team-leading points total to 89 with a series of exceptional passes that gave him 10 assists in Anaheim’s last five games.
He also surpassed Paul Kariya’s 62-assist Anaheim record with 64 this season, while Ryan and Perry both reached 30 goals for the first time in their careers.
“I’m just not a big stats guy,” Getzlaf said with a shrug.
Joe Thornton and Milan Michalek scored for the Sharks, whose lead over Boston for the league’s best record stands at one point with four games to play. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 23 shots, but San Jose lost at home in regulation for just the fourth time all season.
With just eight days left in the regular season, San Jose began a five-game sprint to the finish with an unimpressive effort while missing injured captain Patrick Marleau and forwards Ryane Clowe and Mike Grier. The Sharks are six points in front of Detroit for the conference lead, but they’re barely ahead of the Bruins in their chase of the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy.
“Our transition game wasn’t very good, our passing wasn’t good, and that sets up turnovers,” forward Jeremy Roenick said. “We weren’t very good, and we were playing against a determined team that’s fighting for its playoff lives. We can’t have games like this. It’s unacceptable.”
San Jose’s NHL-best home record slipped to 31-4-4 with the loss, which also snapped a three-game winning streak. The Sharks’ 4-1 loss to Dallas on March 3 was their only other three-goal defeat at home this season.
After Ryan, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2005 draft behind Sidney Crosby, put the Ducks ahead early, Perry got his 30th goal 3 minutes later on another setup from Getzlaf.
Thornton pulled the Sharks back with his 25th goal, and Michalek tied it early in the second period with a power-play tally, but Brown quickly put the Ducks back ahead on a shot that was going wide before it hit the stick of Sharks centre Tomas Plihal and sneaked inside the post. Selanne added his 26th goal on another sharp pass from Getzlaf when both clubs were short-handed late in the second.
Ryan added a power-play goal late in the third period, giving him 30. The New Jersey native scored five in 23 games as a rookie last season.
The mini-series concludes Sunday night at the Pond, where San Jose beat Anaheim 1-0 on March 15 on a goal by Travis Moen, who was traded from the Ducks to the Sharks at the deadline. Kent Huskins, the defenceman also sent to San Jose in the deal, still hasn’t played for the Sharks while recovering from foot surgery, but is practising in hopes of a late-season appearance.
Notes: The 24-year-old Perry finished with 29 goals last season. … On Michalek’s goal, Nabokov picked up an assist, his first of the season. … San Jose’s next victory would be its 52nd, setting a club record.