The Anaheim Ducks officially missed the playoffs during the third period, leaving them with only their pride and their dislike of the San Jose Sharks for motivation.
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That was plenty.
Teemu Selanne scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, Jonas Hiller made 28 saves, and the Ducks dealt yet another blow to San Jose’s playoff hopes with a 3-1 victory Wednesday night.
Bobby Ryan also scored and Corey Perry scored his 36th goal of the season into an empty net for the Ducks, who were eliminated from playoff contention while grinding out their fifth win in six meetings with their California rivals. Although Anaheim has been among the NHL’s best teams since early January, the Ducks’ season is over next week — and they’ve done plenty to keep the Sharks home, as well.
”It’s a rivalry, and it looks like we own them right now,” said Hiller, who beat the Sharks four times this season. ”Everybody is really motivated, and we didn’t want to eliminate ourselves. We wanted a different team to have to win their games. We’re still trying to play good hockey. We don’t want to just give up.”
Anaheim also knocked the Sharks out of first place in the Pacific Division as Dallas (89 points) moved ahead of San Jose (88), Los Angeles (88) and Phoenix (87) in a remarkable four-team race for a division title and just three probable playoff spots.
”I told them I was really proud of them,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”It just shows that we have no quit, and we’re not going to quit. We’re not going to lay down for anybody. We’ll play this way right until the end.”
The Sharks’ loss also clinched a playoff berth for the Nashville Predators, who are fifth in the Western Conference. They are the fourth team in the West to secure a spot in the postseason.
Ryane Clowe scored and Antti Niemi stopped 24 shots for the Sharks, whose three-game winning streak ended despite playing a penalty-free game. After failing to grab points against the Ducks, San Jose realizes it is in for a tense finish to the season.
”For whatever reason, our four lines can’t match up against their four lines,” San Jose captain Joe Thornton said. ”You’ve just got to win now. That’s the only perspective we can think about right now. We’ve got five games left, and we have to win them.”
With three straight wins since losing at Los Angeles last week, San Jose moved atop the Pacific Division on Monday for the first time since Feb. 25. The Sharks have earned seven straight playoff berths and four consecutive division titles, but must fight for a postseason spot into the regular season’s final week.
After returning home to face Phoenix on Thursday, the Sharks finish with home-and-home sets against Dallas and Los Angeles.
”We played well enough to win, but not good enough to win, if that makes any sense at all,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. ”We had opportunities to score. Hiller made some really good saves.”
Indeed, Hiller was outstanding again while extending his franchise record with his NHL-high 70th start in 77 games this season. The Sharks’ only goal resulted from an atrocious giveaway by Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, and Hiller otherwise shut down San Jose in a style reminiscent of his stellar play in eighth-seeded Anaheim’s first-round upset of San Jose in the 2009 playoffs.
The 41-year-old Selanne got his 25th goal in yet another remarkable season when he tipped Luca Sbisa’s slap shot through traffic. Selanne, who hasn’t decided whether to return for another season, is sixth in NHL history with 106 game-winning goals.
”This team really deserved more than we’re getting right now,” said Selanne, who scored in his 662nd career goal. ”We all know the first half was so bad. The second half, we had to do some miracles. It doesn’t really happen in this league very often. That’s very disappointing. Hopefully everybody remembers this when it’s October and November.”
Perry got credit for a last-second score when Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle slid and knocked the empty net off its moorings while the NHL MVP lined up a shot. The referees immediately awarded a goal to Anaheim, and the ruling was confirmed by league video review.
Midway through the second period, Ryan tipped home Devante Smith-Pelly’s pass for his 28th goal, putting him closer to his fourth straight 30-goal season. Just 52 seconds later, Beauchemin made a foolish backhanded clearing attempt behind his own net, where Logan Couture grabbed the puck and fed it to Clowe.
NOTES: Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf extended his assist streak to nine games by setting up Perry’s goal. … Sharks D Douglas Murray apparently was injured during the first period. The team didn’t immediately update his condition. … The Ducks sent promising RW Kyle Palmieri back to their AHL affiliate in Syracuse on Monday in hopes of getting some playoff experience for him. Palmieri was the AHL’s leading goal scorer when he left for Anaheim, where he had three goals and two assists in seven games during his most recent call-up. … Sharks F TJ Galiardi returned from a six-game absence because of an undisclosed upper body injury. C Michal Handzus was a healthy scratch in his place.