ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Anaheim Ducks haven’t had much to pat themselves on the back about. A great deal of their misery has been caused by the San Jose Sharks.
But Anaheim’s 4-2 victory over the Western Conference leaders Sunday night salvaged a shred of dignity for the Ducks, who avoided getting swept by their Pacific Division rivals in a six-game season series for the third time.
Teemu Selanne scored his 599th goal to help the Ducks snap a five-game winless streak that for all intents and purposes has put them out of playoff contention.
Anaheim eliminated San Jose in the first round last year in the playoffs as the eighth seed in the conference after the Sharks entered the post-season with the NHL’s best record for the first time in franchise history.
“We’ve had bigger concerns than that specific statistic at this point,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said when asked if avoiding the goose egg against San Jose helped fuel their effort. “We were just worried about winning the next one and the next one. We’ve proven to ourselves that we can play at a high level if we focus and get our mindset right. The work ethic is not something that’s just going to happen.”
The Sharks and Ducks each sent eight players to the Olympics, tying for the most in the league, but the teams are separated by 26 points in the standings.
“This year, they’ve had our number, so it’s nice to at least get one off of them,” captain Scott Niedermayer said. “We know we can play like this, but there’s not much we can do now about what has happened. We played with a little more energy, something we’ve been missing the last few games.”
Selanne gave the Ducks a scare early in the third period, when his head and left shoulder slammed into the end boards after he failed to convert a pass from Saku Koivu and lost his balance.
Selanne remained on the ice hunched over for a couple of minutes before making it back to the dressing room under his own power, but did not return. The club is calling it an upper-body injury, but gave no further details, and said Selanne will undergo tests Monday.
Jonas Hiller made 31 saves, Corey Perry generated a three-goal first period with his 24th of the season, and Lubomir Visnovsky had his third goal in five games since joining Anaheim in a trade with Edmonton on March 3. Bobby Ryan scored into an empty net with 1:13 remaining.
Joe Thornton and Jamie McGinn scored third-period goals for the Sharks, who began a six-game trip with their second straight loss. They still lead the conference by two points over Chicago and trail Washington by five points in their quest for a second straight Presidents’ Trophy. No Western Conference team has had the best overall record in consecutive seasons since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 Dallas Stars.
“I think we can live with a loss if we’re working our butts off, but we cannot not work hard,” defenceman Dan Boyle said. “Even though we’re sitting in a good position, we were in the same position last year. If we’re going to coast, we’re going to coast downhill. Our effort wasn’t there tonight. Everybody needs to show up and make a difference. When only half the team shows up, that’s a problem.”
The Ducks didn’t score more than two goals against Evgeni Nabokov in any of the other five meetings. But they connected on three of their first 10 shots against the two-time all-star, who surrendered five goals against Nashville in his previous start Tuesday night before his teammates rallied with six in the third period for an 8-5 win.
Perry scored at 3:27 of the first, converting a rebound after Nabokov made a leg save on Ryan’s scoring attempt from the edge of the crease. Selanne made it 2-0 at 7:40 with his 21st goal, carrying the puck from the Anaheim zone into the Sharks’ end, then leaving a drop pass for Koivu and one-timing Koivu’s return feed past Nabokov’s glove.
“We have to realize one thing – that teams are going to be desperate,” said Nabokov, who has allowed 15 goals in five games with the Sharks since his poor showing against Canada in the Olympics. “We are facing only desperate teams, so we have to be prepared and play almost as desperate as they are – because if we don’t match their work ethic, we are not going to win.”
Visnovsky got Anaheim’s third goal just 55 seconds before the first intermission, going for the glove side on Nabokov with a 50-foot slapshot that broke off the goalie’s left arm and trickled into the net.
NOTES: Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf also left the game early in the third after reinjuring his left ankle, the same one that bothered him just before the Olympics. He’s listed as day-to-day and will be evaluated on Monday. … Selanne’s assist on Visnovsky’s goal was the 646th of his career, breaking a tie with Bobby Orr for 57th place. Orr played in only 657 games, compared to Selanne’s 1,174. … The Sharks were 6-0 against Anaheim in 1997-98 and 1993-94, the Ducks’ inaugural campaign.