ANAHEIM – The Ducks clinched a second straight Pacific Division tonight, which puts them in great position for a postseason run that starts next week. But tonight against the Sharks, it felt a bit like the playoffs had already started.
Engulfed in an electric atmosphere created by a standing-room-only crowd of 17,322 at Honda Center, the Ducks got two goals from Patrick Maroon and another strong performance from rookie goalie John Gibson in a 5-2 victory over rival San Jose. The win sealed the division title for the Ducks, ensuring they will face one of the two Western Conference wild card teams when the playoffs get underway a week from now. They also moved a point in front of the Blues for the top spot in the Western Conference with two regular season games left, though the Blues have a game in hand.
"It’s cool because it’s a really tough division," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "When you start out, you have certain goals. One is to win the division, then the conference, then the Presidents’ [Trophy], and then you win every round of the playoffs to win the Cup. Those are your seven or eight goals. We’ve got one down, but we have others we want to have."
Maroon scored twice in the second period (his first career multi-goal game) and Gibson saved 36 of 38 San Jose shots to earn his second win in the first two starts of his burgeoning NHL career.
"It’s very special," Maroon said of his two-goal game. "It’s my first time doing it. [Teemu] Selanne and [Mathieu] Perreault have been my linemates for most of the year, so they’ve been great for me all year. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would’ve done it. Hats off to them. They helped me out."
San Jose opened the scoring with 1:43 left in the first, when a Ducks clearing attempt took a bad hop off the boards and soon afterward Jason Demers wristed a shot past Gibson from the right wing circle. It was the first career goal given up by Gibson, who saved all 18 shots he faced in his NHL debut Monday night in Vancouver.
Corey Perry erased the San Jose lead almost singlehandedly just before the end of the period, crashing to the net from the left wing before dragging a backhand past goalie Antti Niemi with 2.1 seconds left.
The first of Maroon’s pair of goals came 3:32 into the second, as he tucked in a wraparound to put the Ducks in front 2-1.
San Jose evened things up almost four minutes later after Francois Beauchemin turned the puck over trying to get it to Hampus Lindholm behind the net. Logan Couture jumped on the lost puck and fired it through from low in the right wing circle.
Maroon’s second of the night put Anaheim in front halfway through the period. Seconds after a nice backcheck by Teemu Selanne jarred the puck loose, Selanne made a pretty cross-ice pass to Maroon for the snap shot from the left wing that snuck under Niemi.
The Sharks goalie was pulled for backup Alex Stalock, who ended up giving up the next Anaheim goal with 3:14 left in the period. Perry raced down the right wing and slung a shot that kicked hard off Stalock, and Beleskey pounced on it, dragged around a diving Brent Burns and fired it home to make it 4-2.
Neither team found the net through much of the third period, until the Sharks drew a Bryan Allen slashing penalty and sent Stalock to the bench for a 6-on-4. But the Ducks soon cleared the puck out of the zone and Jakob Silfverberg found the empty net from center ice to ignite the home crowd and slam the door on this one.
"We want to finish strong," Selanne said. "That’s only what really matters. Everybody is excited about the playoffs right now. We want to make sure nobody gets hurt, and go from there. We can’t wait until the playoffs start."
This marks the third division title in club history (2007, 2013, 2014) and gave the Ducks a franchise-record 112 standings points (52-20-8).
Anaheim also set a club record for goals in one season with 257, besting the previous mark of 254 (2006-07). The club tied a franchise record for most home wins in a season with 28 (previously set in 2007-08).
"We can be happy for a little bit, and then get back to getting ready for LA on Saturday," Perry said. "We can enjoy this one and enjoy the things we’ve accomplished so far, but there’s a lot more to be done."