SAN JOSE, Calif. --
Gone in 60 minutes.
That's the tale of the home-ice advantage the San Jose Sharks earned by winning the Presidents' Trophy -- only to see it taken away Thursday night when the Anaheim Ducks got a 35-save performance from Jonas Hiller for a 2-0 victory in the opener of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
The 2007 Stanley Cup champions needed a late surge just to make the playoffs. They did it behind Hiller, who took over the starting job from Jean-Sebastien Giguere and was flawless in his postseason debut.
"It's sure easier to start with a win," Hiller said. "Now San Jose almost has to win the next one, so that's some pressure on them, but they're a great team."
The Ducks finished 26 points behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division, but the nucleus of the team that won the Cup two years ago provided valuable experience.
"There are things we did well, but the game really could have gone either way," said Scott Niedermayer, who snapped a scoreless tie with a power-play goal 5:18 into the third period. "(Hiller) stepped up and made a couple of saves, and they hit a couple of posts. They came at us pretty good, but we still felt pretty good about how we played."
Ryan Getzlaf added an insurance goal with 2:25 left in regulation as the Ducks silenced the sellout crowd at HP Pavilion, which expected to see the NHL's regular-season champs get the jump on the Ducks in the first all-California series in the NHL in 40 years.
"We felt like we (controlled) the majority of the play, but that's just hockey," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "We've got to keep people in front of the net, keep getting shots, and it'll work for us. ... We've got a good veteran club here, and last year we lost Game 1 against Calgary. We've got to think about this for five minutes, and then we'll move on."
Hiller and Evgeni Nabokov matched save for save until Niedermayer scored with Jonathan Cheechoo serving a needless tripping penalty. San Jose threatened late in the game after Getzlaf took an elbowing penalty at 15:26, but wound up getting the backbreaker when he came out of the penalty box, stole a pass in the neutral zone and wristed a 30-footer into the top corner.
Game 2 in the best-of-7 series is Sunday night in San Jose, where the Ducks have now won their last two visits.
With the win, Anaheim continues its late-season hot streak, having now won 11 of its last 14 games dating back to March 18. A lot of that success has come on the road where the Ducks are now 8-0-2 in their last 10 games -- including the two wins at San Jose.
The Sharks were concerned, but not panicky, after the loss -- after all, they lost their opener to Calgary in the first round last year.
"I don't feel distraught," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after the first all-California Stanley Cup game since the Oakland Seals and Los Angeles Kings met in 1969. "We played a pretty good game. We have to get in the goalie's face a little more. This series isn’t over by any means."
Still, the loss puts the Sharks under postseason scrutiny yet again after three straight second-round exits. Their 0-for-6 showing on the power play won't stop the questions about their mental toughness.
"We didn't create too many second opportunities," said McLellan, an assistant on Detroit's Stanley Cup winner last spring. "That's their goalie doing a great job around their net, and us doing a poor job. Their goaltender swallowed a lot of pucks. We obviously have to be better in that area."
Hiller kept the game scoreless until Niedermayer broke the tie.
Getzlaf, who had four assists in Anaheim's 5-2 win at San Jose earlier this month, made a sharp pass to the top of the right circle for a one-timer by Niedermayer, who fired his low shot past Nabokov.
The Sharks then carried the play but were unable to beat Hiller, who also benefitted from a pair of shots that caught the post.
Getzlaf put the game away when he came to mid-ice from the penalty box, took a pass from Mike Brown after a turnover by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and ripped a shot past Nabokov to put the game away.
But the night belonged to Hiller, who justified coach Randy Carlyle's decision to give him the top job.
"Jonas is more than just a raw rookie," Carlyle said. "He played in some World Championships and the Swiss League, and won championships. ... He's a very calm guy. He doesn't get too high or too low."
It had to be the final penalty kill for Anaheim, one of six San Jose power plays they erased on the night. Led by Mike Brown and Todd Marchant up front and Scott Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin
and Chris Pronger, the Ducks foiled the last good chance for San Jose to tie the game.
kicked away a great chance by the Sharks midway through the second period when he cleared a loose puck out of the Ducks’ crease with his left foot before the crashing Marcel Goc could get his stick on it and punch in the net.
As the Ducks tried to get out of their own zone in the period, Teemu Selanne used a quick burst of speed to chase down a loose puck and draw a tripping penalty on Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo. Scott Niedermayer scored on the ensuing power play for the game’s first goal.
San Jose outshot Anaheim, 35-17, for the game, which included a wide 14-7 margin in the second period. The Sharks, however, will look back at their inability to get traffic in front of the net and create many second-chance opportunities against Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller
, who was on his game from the first puck drop.
showed that he could handle the pressure in his first NHL playoff start, displaying a cool head and a confident manner in the net. Hiller stopped 14 shots in the second period alone, and foiled Dan Boyle
on a scoring chance in close. Also, expect the Sharks to get physical with Andrew Ebbett and Teemu Selanne whenever the smallish speedy players are on the ice.