For the third time in four games, Anaheim's No. 1 line dramatically outplayed San Jose's top unit.
And the Ducks have the 3-1 series lead to prove it.
The impressive young tandem of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry along with rookie power forward Bobby Ryan were simply too much for Joe Thornton and Co. – usually Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, with Jeremy Roenick and Jonathan Cheechoo also getting a few shifts.
Ryan scored twice, the first two goals of the game, less than four minutes apart midway through the second period to stake the Ducks to a 2-0 advantage. Perry picked up an assist on Ryan's second marker for his first point of the series, then deflected Getzlaf's shot past Evgeni Nabokov to give the Ducks a stranglehold 3-0 lead with less than six minutes remaining.
Oh yeah, it was Thornton who coughed up the puck behind the net, to the hard-charging Perry and Ryan, that led to Perry's goal. Thornton, in fact, was minus-3 on the night, joined by Rob Blake as the low men on a low night for San Jose fans.
What happened was, from San Jose's vantage point, Game 4 looked too much like Games 1 and 2 and not enough like Game 3. No desperation, no now-or-never and minimal initiation of physicality (in other words, they didn't hit enough).
For whatever reason, the Sharks abandoned the aggressive game plan that served them so well in Game 3, a game plan that looked like it might eventually succeed in wearing down Anaheim's oft-used top unit. San Jose reverted to more of a finesse game; it's pretty when it works, but ugly when it doesn't…especially when it means you drop Game 4 to fall down 3-1 in a first round series in which you're the No. 1 playing a No. 8.
Credit Anaheim, of course, who were also led by warhorse defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. The Ducks played a controlled game, riding out the first period – in which the Sharks carried the play, but couldn't beat Jonas Hiller (who, by the way, picked up his second career shutout in his fourth career playoff game) – and then slowly took over. They didn't look back after Ryan's deuce and certainly not after Perry sealed it.
With Hiller playing so well – his positioning was so good, he was stopping pucks he didn't even see in Game 4 – it's difficult to envision the Sharks rallying for the series victory. Thornton, Marleau, Setoguchi and Milan Michalek combined for 117 goals and 279 points in the regular season; they have one goal and four points, combined, in four playoff games. Do the math and it adds up to another early exit for San Jose.
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Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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