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Sharks clamp down on Ducks to take control of Pacific with 2-1 win

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Anaheim Ducks returned to their favourite road arena thinking they could close the Pacific Division gap on the San Jose Sharks, who have been a moment late and a shift short against their toughest rivals all season long.

The Ducks didn't even have a shot this time.

Jeremy Roenick and Joe Thornton scored, and the Sharks tightened their grip on the division lead by holding the defending Stanley Cup champions without a shot in the third period of a 2-1 victory Friday night.

With maddeningly good puck possession and a handful of sterling defensive plays, the Sharks controlled the third period with a certainty that told Thornton his team might be ready to erase its past playoff shortcomings.

"This team has a lot of confidence right now," said Thornton, who got his 21st goal in the game's opening minute. "(Defence) is one thing we take pride in, and it says something about our team."

Until San Jose embarked on its current stretch of 14 wins in 15 games, the Sharks were the dark horse in a three-team race for the Pacific crown. After opening up a seven-point lead on Anaheim with a game in hand, the Sharks are close to clinching a top-two playoff seed and all the accompanying advantages.

"That was an unbelievable job, offensively and defensively," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "We had the puck, it must have been 75 per cent of the time, and if they did get the puck in our end, we were aggressive. We jumped them, didn't give them any time. It was just a great overall effort."

Though Wilson's club has the NHL's second-best overall record, the Sharks have struggled in tight spots at home, particularly against division opponents - and even more particularly against the Ducks, who had won six straight at the Shark Tank. The Ducks won five of the clubs' first six meetings this season, losing just once in Anaheim.

The Sharks were comprehensively better this time, moving well ahead of the Ducks and 10 points in front of the third-place Dallas Stars. Evgeni Nabokov made just 12 saves while earning his NHL-best 43rd victory for the Sharks, who outshot Anaheim 43-13 for the largest shot advantage in San Jose's franchise history.

"If we're going to do what we want to do in the playoffs, we have to beat this team," said Roenick, who put San Jose ahead early in the third period with his 508th career goal during a two-man advantage. "They've had some real strong games against us, so it was important to get one back."

San Jose trailed Anaheim and Dallas for most of the season before vaulting into first place with 11 straight wins. Though a division title means little in the post-season, a second-place finish in the overall Western Conference standings would be particularly desirable for any of the three contenders behind Detroit - since the two teams that don't win the title are likely to play each other in the first round.

Todd Marchant scored and Jonas Hiller made 41 saves for the Ducks, whose 13 shots were one more than their franchise-record low. Anaheim had been held without a shot in just one previous period in club history: the first period against Dallas on Dec. 27, 2000.

"Some teams will use the trap to protect a lead," Marchant said. "They did a great job in the neutral zone. Any time we tried to chip a puck behind them, they were able to knock it down and send it back up the ice. ... If it wasn't for our goalie, it could have been a lot worse."

Hiller got the start after Jean-Sebastien Giguere developed an undisclosed injury between the morning skate and the pre-game warmups. Giguere apparently wasn't even in uniform by the third period when Hiller got hit in the mask by one of Jonathan Cheechoo's nine shots, stopping play while Hiller recovered and got a bandage on his left temple.

"Hiller gave us a chance," coach Randy Carlyle said of his goalie, who needed post-game stitches. "We didn't create, and they trapped it in neutral ice. We kept giving the puck over."

Carlyle said the Ducks, already playing without suspended defenseman Chris Pronger and injured forward Corey Perry, would recall a minor league goalie before Saturday's game at Phoenix.

The clubs finish the season series next Friday at Anaheim.

Notes: Roenick's second goal in two games put him past Jean Beliveau for 36th place in NHL history. ... Sharks rookie Torrey Mitchell won't be suspended for his collision with Minnesota D Kurtis Foster on Wednesday night. Foster broke his left leg while running into the boards in a race with Mitchell. ... With Pronger out, the Shark Tank faithful turned their nonstop displeasure on former San Jose forward Teemu Selanne, booing the Finnish Flash every time he touched the puck.


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