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Ducks beat Sharks, clinch Pacific Division

by Curtis Zupke

ANAHEIM -- For much of this season, the Anaheim Ducks have been a model of depth with all four lines contributing at different times. It was that depth that propelled them to the Pacific Division title Wednesday night.

Patrick Maroon scored two go-ahead goals in the second period and rookie goalie John Gibson improved to 2-0-0 in his NHL career to help the Ducks beat the San Jose Sharks 5-2 in front of a standing-room only crowd of 17,322 at Honda Center.

Anaheim clinched the third Pacific Division title in franchise history (2007, 2013, 2014) and jumped ahead of the idle St. Louis Blues for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Ducks set a franchise record with 112 points, surpassing the 2007 Cup-winning team.

"That's a pretty big accomplishment," Maroon said of the division title. "That's what [coach] Bruce [Boudreau] told us to do at the beginning of the year, to clinch first place, and we did. Now we just have to continue that into the playoffs.

"We have a big, strong physical team up front that protects pucks well. When we play our game, we can see it: We're pretty successful. We clog up the middle in the neutral zone. When we get pucks deep, we grind the team D and we create our chances. That's our team, and I thought we did a good job of that tonight."

The win also clinched a Western Conference First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs between San Jose and the Los Angeles Kings. That series will begin in San Jose next week.

"It's going to be a battle," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "They're a [heck] of hockey team. Line one through four, D-men one through six or seven and one of the best goalies in the world (Jonathan Quick). We're in for a challenge, and we better be ready for it."

San Jose received a scare at the end when captain Joe Thornton went to the bench clutching his chest in pain but coach Todd McLellan said, "I talked to him on the bench. He got hit up in the chest area. He's fine now."

Gibson, 20, got the start over the struggling Jonas Hiller in the biggest game of the season for Anaheim in a lively playoff atmosphere and made 36 saves. He has stopped 54 of 56 shots in two NHL games and makes Anaheim's goaltending situation even more interesting.

"You know he's going to be a good goalie," Boudreau said. "It's a little bit of a gamble sometimes. My thoughts were the second game. The first game [there's] your adrenaline and your emotion. It's your first game. Will there be a letdown? And there didn't seem to be much of a letdown for him. I don't know what we're going to do now."

Maroon, a sixth-round pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, recorded his first multi-goal game. He has made the most out of his first full NHL season after struggling with weight problems early in his career. Maroon was the first star of the game.

"It's very special," Maroon said. "It's my first time doing it. [Teemu] Selanne and [Mathieu] Perreault have been linemates for most of the year. They've been great for me all year. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would have done it."

Corey Perry scored his 43rd goal in the first period and Matt Beleskey, the latest depth wing to play on the Ducks' top line, scored in the second.

San Jose was trying to move within one point of Anaheim with two games remaining but got a poor start from goalie Antti Niemi, who was pulled after he allowed three goals on 19 shots. The Sharks also went 0-for-5 on the power play.

"The first goal obviously [is] one we'd love to have back, I'm sure," McLellan said. "I was concerned coming out in the second. I thought that would put us back on our heels, but we responded well. Then they get the second one, and we still respond. And by the time the third one went in, you could feel the bench get a little deflated. We needed to do something at that point and we made the [goalie] change, and I thought we responded well again, but just not enough."

Asked if Niemi was his goalie going into the playoffs, McLellan said, "Nemo's one of our guys going into the playoffs."

The line of Maroon, Perreault and Selanne was particularly effective in the second period. Maroon grabbed a loose puck behind the net and scored on a quick wraparound at 3:32 for a 2-1 lead. He converted a great pass from Selanne to finish a rush for a 3-2 lead at 9:35.

It marked the end of the night for Niemi, who was replaced by Alex Stalock. The Sharks tied it at 2-2 on a laser wrist shot by Couture at 7:23, but Maroon quickly put Anaheim back in front and Beleskey restored the two-goal lead with an impressive toe-drag goal at 16:36.

Perry finished a lively opening period with his sixth goal in seven games to force a 1-1 tie at first intermission. Perry drove the left side and blew past Justin Braun and backhanded a shot that went under Niemi's right pad at 19:51.

Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler returned from a knee sprain after a 12-game absence. The Ducks scratched defenseman Luca Sbisa with an upper-body injury.

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