Ducks beat Sharks, clinch Pacific title
When Jakob Silfverberg’s short-handed goal rattled into the Sharks’ empty net, the Anaheim Ducks could finally celebrate a division title that nearly got away.
Just a few weeks after San Jose knocked them off the top of the standings, the Ducks clawed their way back up and cemented their spot as the Pacific’s new power.
Patrick Maroon scored two goals, John Gibson made 36 saves in his second NHL start, and the Ducks clinched their second straight division title with a 5-2 victory over the Sharks on Wednesday night.
Corey Perry scored his 43rd goal as the Ducks finished off the second-place Sharks with a three-goal third period to earn the first back-to-back division titles in franchise history. Anaheim also set club records with 112 standings points and 257 goals.
It’s not a bad night’s work, but the Ducks hope they’re not done.
"It’s great, but it’s also only the first step in what we want to do," Perry said. "We reached a goal that we set for ourselves, but we have bigger goals."
Matt Beleskey also scored for the Ducks as they pushed one point ahead of St. Louis for the overall lead in the Western Conference, although the Blues have a game in hand.
The Ducks led the overall NHL standings for much of the season until St. Louis and San Jose pushed ahead of them last month. Anaheim reclaimed the Pacific lead two weeks ago and finally finished off the Sharks, who are in the playoffs for the 10th straight season.
Anaheim will face one of the West’s two wild-card playoff teams — Minnesota, Dallas or Phoenix — in the first round. The Ducks also would have home-ice advantage in the second round.
"Home barn is always important," said Teemu Selanne, who had two assists. "I personally believe in home sweet home, but the main thing is we want to finish the season strong, and this game was a big step in that."
Jason Demers and Logan Couture scored for the Sharks, who have lost four of six down the stretch. Antti Niemi allowed three goals on 19 shots before getting pulled.
San Jose could have pulled within one point of the Ducks with a regulation victory, but Alex Stalock replaced Niemi midway through the second period after Maroon scored the tiebreaking goal on a stoppable shot. The Sharks couldn’t rally against Gibson, who held them scoreless in the final 32 minutes.
"You can look at tonight, or at something we did three or four games ago, or even before that," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We still like our chances in the playoffs."
The Sharks are locked into a first-round playoff rematch with the Los Angeles Kings, who eliminated them in a bruising seven-game series in the second round last spring. The California rivals are meeting in the postseason for the third time in four years.
"It would have been great (to win the division), but we’re in the playoffs and we know who we’re going to play," San Jose captain Joe Thornton said.
In the biggest game of the regular season, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau made the mildly surprising choice to start the 20-year-old Gibson, who shut out Vancouver on Monday in his NHL debut, over longtime starter Jonas Hiller. Gibson was mostly solid in his first game at Honda Center, making several big saves in the third.
"In Vancouver, I was just trying to get my feet under me," Gibson said. "Today I felt a lot more comfortable. It was for the (division) title, and it was at home to make it a little more special."
Maroon had the first multigoal game of his short career, and the Ducks also got a boost from the return of U.S. Olympic defenseman Cam Fowler, who had missed 12 games since March 14 with an injury.
Perry tied it for Anaheim on a drive to the net with 2.1 seconds left, holding off Justin Braun with one arm and scoring with the other. The former NHL MVP trails only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the league goal-scoring race.
Maroon put the Ducks ahead early in the second period with a wraparound goal off a setup from Selanne, but Couture tied it with a sharp-angled shot for his 22nd goal.
Selanne then sent a cross-ice feed to Maroon, who scored again 6:13 after his first goal. Beleskey increased the Ducks’ lead with an exceptional play, toe-dragging past a prone Brent Burns and beating Stalock for his eighth goal.
NOTES: Gibson was recalled because of an upper-body injury for Frederik Andersen. Hiller’s Danish backup has missed three games. … The Sharks scratched F Marty Havlat, who hadn’t missed a game since March 8. … Anaheim D Luca Sbisa sat out with an upper-body injury.