ANAHEIM, Calif. – One night after the San Jose Sharks rallied from an early three-goal deficit, they came agonizingly close to blowing a three-goal lead of their own.
Joe Thornton knows that’s just the way it’s going to be down the stretch while San Jose and Anaheim both look to carve out playoff berths in the tight Western Conference.
Dany Heatley scored 14 seconds in, Ryane Clowe had a goal and an assist, and the Sharks hung on to beat the Ducks 4-3 Wednesday night for their second straight win after the all-star break.
Ben Eager scored his first goal with his new team and Antti Niemi made 27 saves one night after getting pulled for the Sharks, who moved even with Anaheim in the Western Conference standings. Defenceman Jason Demers even scored a rare goal during the Sharks’ three-goal first period, but San Jose finished the game simply surviving the Ducks’ late surge.
“We know there are going to be close, wild games,” said Thornton, who assisted on Heatley’s goal on the opening shift. “You hope there’s not too many three-point games to keep everybody bunched up. We’d like to win them outright, the way we did the last two nights.”
After the Sharks rallied from an early 3-0 deficit for a 5-3 win over Phoenix on Tuesday night in San Jose, the Sharks went ahead 3-0 against Anaheim in the first 11:15. The Ducks got to 4-3 early in the third period and had several late scoring chances, but Niemi made just enough big saves.
“I really liked our start,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “We thought having played last night, we might have our legs underneath us while they were trying to find theirs, and that’s what happened. It wasn’t going to be easy tonight. We were fortunate to get out to the good early lead.”
San Jose has won six of seven during the best stretch of the defending Pacific Division champions’ up-and-down season, but just five points separate fourth place and 12th in the West standings.
Anaheim climbed back into the playoff picture by winning eight of 11 during January, improbably thriving while captain Ryan Getzlaf is out with broken bones in his face. But Jonas Hiller made an ugly return from his first all-star game for Anaheim, getting pulled after giving up three goals on 10 shots. The Ducks lost for the fourth time in 14 games.
“You can’t win a lot of games when you’re down 3-0 within the first 10-12 minutes,” said rookie defenceman Cam Fowler, who scored a power-play goal in his third straight game. “I’m not sure if we were a little rusty after the break, but there are no excuses. We can’t have a start like that. Our guys did a good job of battling back, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Joffrey Lupul and Bobby Ryan also scored, and all-star Corey Perry had two assists as the Ducks’ four-game home winning streak ended. Curtis McElhinney made 17 saves and picked up an assist in relief of Hiller for Anaheim, which will play six of its next seven on the road.
But the Swiss goalie’s struggles against San Jose put the Ducks in a deep early hole. Hiller is 4-9 in his career against the Sharks, and Heatley scored his 19th goal on the Sharks’ opening shift.
“The first shift was the worst-case scenario,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “Later in the game, we got it going, but we still weren’t sharp with some of the decisions with the puck. We haven’t played that type of hockey in a long time.”
Eager followed several minutes later with his first goal since Nov. 19, when he played for Atlanta. Demers then capitalized on an assist from Clowe, chasing Hiller with his second goal in 46 games this season.
Lupul scored the Ducks’ first goal early in the second period, but Clowe converted a long rebound on a power play for his 14th goal.
Fowler answered with a power-play goal on another rebound with 2:08 left in the second period. Ryan trimmed the Sharks’ lead to one goal with 14:24 to play, putting a wrist shot through traffic behind Niemi for his eighth goal in 10 games.
“We got off our forecheck and kind of sat back and let them come at us,” Heatley said. “We had to come back after that tough start yesterday and do things a little different this time, and it was the opposite game.”
Notes: Sharks C Logan Couture missed his second straight game with an apparent case of the flu. San Jose’s top goal-scorer is among the favourites for the CalderTrophy as the league’s top rookie. … Fowler has scored a power play goal in three straight games. … Getzlaf is expected back next week during the Ducks’ road trip through Western Canada. … The Ducks wore their third jerseys.