VANCOUVER -- Seeing rookie goaltender John Gibson play his first NHL game helped the Anaheim Ducks refocus on defensive play that had slipped of late. They returned the favor by easing the young goalie into the League.
The Ducks tightened up defensively in front of the 20-year-old, blocking 22 shots and leaving 18 for Gibson to stop in a 3-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Monday night.
"The team played really well in front of me and made my job easier," said Gibson, who became the first Ducks goalie to record a shutout in his debut. "I only had to make regular saves and if there was any rebounds they cleared it out."
Daniel Winnik scored the winning goal on a shorthanded breakaway 6:26 into the first period and Anaheim increased its lead atop the Pacific Division, three points ahead of the San Jose Sharks.
Anaheim, which matched the franchise record 110 points set in 2006-07, can clinch the division when they host the Sharks at the Honda Center on Wednesday. But first, the Ducks were enjoying knocking the Canucks out of the race to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's been a battle this year with them and chippy at times, and it’s nice to kind of put them away for good," Winnik said.
Winnik was one of several Ducks to credit Gibson's presence for helping narrow the team's defensive focus.
Gibson, a highly-touted prospect in his first pro season, got the start after No. 1 goalie Jonas Hiller struggled in a 4-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, and backup Frederik Andersen was injured by a shot off his mask on Friday.
"You want to battle for him in his first game," Winnik said. "We really clamped down in the D-zone. Nothing got to the net, guys were blocking, battling, and that is how you have to play going into the playoffs."
Kyle Palmieri put the Ducks ahead 2-0 late in the second period and Matt Beleskey added another insurance goal for the Ducks, who snapped a two-game skid. Coach Bruce Boudreau was most impressed with the defensive execution after giving up 15 goals the past four games.
"I wanted a complete defensive effort from the team, that's what we have been lacking in the last three weeks," Boudreau said. "Any time you are starting a 20-year-old kid that's never played an NHL game, you are sitting there saying, 'Hey, if we don't play good we could kill this guy.' It really straightened out some of the problems we've been having and Gibson was there to make the saves when he had to."
Eddie Lack stopped 20 of 23 shots for the Canucks, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Vancouver remained six points behind the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card spot; the Canucks have three games left and the Stars have the tiebreaker.
"It's been a while, we're disappointed for sure," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "The last few weeks have been very disappointing."
Gibson wasn't tested often until the Ducks were up 3-0, but made a great right pad save to take a sure backdoor goal away from fellow rookie Nicklas Jensen with seven minutes left and stuffed Jensen in tight on a power-play rush around the defense a couple of minutes later.
After overcoming some early nerves, Gibson admitted he started to thinking about the shutout in the third period.
"At that point you want to get a shutout, but at the same point a win is a win and it's just icing on the cake," he said.
At 20 years and 297 days, Gibson became the youngest goaltender since Darren Puppa of the Buffalo Sabres (20 years, 223 days) to record a shutout in the NHL debut. Boudreau said he didn't act like a 20-year-old.
"He looked so much more calmer than a 20-year-old kid playing his first NHL game. It was like ho-hum," Boudreau said. "After my first game when I scored a goal, you couldn't shut me up. I was so happy I was jumping up and down, and he was just, 'Ah, here we go again.' But I think it's a demeanor that a goalie has to have."
Needing at least a point to keep their slim postseason hopes alive, the Canucks coughed up a breakaway to Andrew Cogliano 15 seconds into the game. Lack stopped that, but was beaten after another turnover at the Vancouver blue line by captain Henrik Sedin on a power play six minutes later. Winnik stole the puck and skated in alone and fired a quick wrist shot over Lack's blocker.
Despite playing the night before, Anaheim outshot the Canucks 23-18, improving to 10-1-2 in the second half of back-to-back games this season. That includes two wins in Vancouver in the past nine days for the Ducks, who won all five games against the Canucks this season.
"It doesn't do anybody any good right now to be critical," Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. "Obviously we didn't play well enough, but I'm not going to criticize the hockey club at this stage right now."
Gibson, who won a World Junior Championship gold medal and World Championship bronze with the United States last season, faced three shots in the second period. The Canucks failed to get a shot on consecutive 2-on-1 breaks late in the second period, and Palmieri doubled the Ducks lead a short while later, deflecting Ben Lovejoy's point shot through Lack from atop the crease.
"We talked before game about getting more shots at the net but we weren't able to do that," Henrik Sedin said.
Any hopes of a Vancouver rally ended early in the third period.
Lack again stopped Cogliano on a breakaway (it was actually a 2-on-0 with a Ducks player trailing) 30 seconds into the period, but Beleskey finished some nice passing from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry off the rush to make it 3-0 less than a minute later.
Until the late saves on Jensen, Gibson's most difficult task was staying alert. That wasn't a problem given the circumstances.
"You got to stay with it, especially with a team like that and their first line, all they need is once chance so you have to stay with it," Gibson said. "My first game, it's pretty easy to stay with it."
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