By Kyle Shohara
As the popular quote from Anchorman goes, “This…is a big one.”
Not only are two powerhouses of the Western Conference and the Pacific Division going at it late in the season, but the Ducks can clinch the division title against the rival Sharks with a victory tonight. This comes on the heels of Anaheim’s 3-0 victory over Vancouver two nights ago, a game in which 20-year-old goaltender John Gibson earned his first career victory (a shutout) in his NHL debut.
Though Gibson was the first off the ice after the morning skate, Boudreau remained coy when asked if the rookie netminder gets the start for the second consecutive game. “He may have come off first, but there are reasons for that,” Boudreau said. “We’ll see tonight. I don’t know if he’s in.”
No matter who’s in net, you can expect a playoff-type atmosphere inside Honda Center as the Ducks look to clinch their second consecutive Pacific Division title.
“The division has been our focus all year,” said Kyle Palmieri. “With the chance to do it at home against one of our biggest rivals is a pretty big opportunity for us, especially heading into the playoffs.”
Anaheim’s leading goal scorer, Corey Perry, says the win in Vancouver was a good way to build momentum for tonight’s game, and the two that follow. “It’s a big game for us,” he said. “With three games left, we want to go into the playoffs riding that high, and peaking at the right time.”
Not to be forgotten is the top spot in the Western Conference currently held by the St. Louis Blues. A win tonight would propel the Ducks to first place in the West, a point ahead of the Blues, who have lost three in a row. But Palmieri says the team’s immediate focus is locking up the Pacific.
“We’re just focused on playing our game,” he said. “We’re taking it a game at a time. Whether you’re first in the conference, the league, or division, you have to beat the best teams. That’s going to be the key heading into the playoffs.”
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler took regular shifts during the morning skate alongside his familiar d-partner, Ben Lovejoy. Boudreau says Fowler will be a “game-time decision” tonight against the Sharks.
“Whenever he plays, we want to make sure we’re not rushing him in,” said Boudreau. “He’s got to be 100 percent healthy. If he’s 100 percent healthy, he’s good enough to play. But if we deem him 97 percent healthy at this stage of the year, we’ll wait three more days. We’ll find out at game time.”
‘IT’S THE BEST TIME FOR HOCKEY PLAYERS’
The ageless wonder, Teemu Selanne, has been in his fair share of big games throughout his 22-year NHL career. Selanne says these are the games hockey players live for.
“Getting close to the playoffs, even your body feels it,” he said. “It’s like a racehorse on race morning. They know it’s a race. That’s how we feel, too. From now on, it’s time to enjoy it.”
Selanne paces current Anaheim skaters in career scoring against the Sharks with 97 points (51g/46a) in 91 games.
“We have a lot of respect for those guys,” he said. “They’re a very good team. That’s why it’s always fun to play these big games.”
Anaheim and San Jose conclude a five-game season set Wednesday at Honda Center. The Ducks are 1-2-1 vs. the Sharks this season, including a 6-3 victory in the lone Honda Center game on December 31. Anaheim has gone 53-54-10 all-time against San Jose (24-26-5 mark at Honda Center). Ryan Getzlaf (1g/5a) leads the team in scoring vs. San Jose in 2013-14.