VANCOUVER – The Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks had nothing to gain against each other after clinching division titles three days earlier.
Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller still had something on the line.
In a fight for playoff starts with teammate Viktor Fasth, Hiller made 19 of his 28 saves in the third period and Anaheim survived a wild finish shorthanded for a 3-1 victory over Vancouver on Thursday night.
Asked about giving Hiller the start on a night when he rested four key forwards, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said it was a chance to make a statement.
"Yeah, because I told him I have been giving Viktor all the tough games so this is your chance to win one for us and he did," Boudreau said.
Fasth pitched a shutout his last start, backstopping Anaheim to a Pacific Division-clinching win Monday. Hiller nearly answered with a shutout of his own; he was beaten only by Jason Garrison's blast on a 5-on-3 with 3:18 left. Hiller then helped the Ducks kill off the second penalty with the Canucks skating 6-on-4 before Andrew Cogliano scored into an empty net.
"In the third period he won one for us," Boudreau said.
Hiller's hardest job the first two periods was staying awake against the Canucks, who wrapped up the Northwest Division title on Monday and but managed just nine shots despite icing their top three lines. Vancouver woke up in the third, though, doubling their total in the first eight minutes and outshooting the Ducks 20-5 overall.
Hiller had no chance on Garrison's perfect shot through traffic, but came up big with Roberto Luongo pulled to create a 6-on-4 with Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray still off for high sticking Alexandre Burrows while killing the first penalty. Hiller stopped Alexander Edler's hard shot from the point and Cogliano fired the rebound into the empty net at the other end with 27.4 seconds left.
"He's been playing great for the last month and a half," Boudreau said of Hiller, who trails Fasth, a 30-year-old in his first NHL season, in every statistic except wins. "He showed me we have two good goalies, and that the coach I don't think can screw it up putting either one of them in there for the playoffs."
Matt Beleskey and Brad Staubitz also scored for the Ducks, who won despite resting forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Radek Dvorak, as well as defenseman Bryan Allen. The Ducks were also missing Bobby Ryan (flu) and Luca Sbisa (lower body), but still managed to outplay the Canucks early.
"It was nice to get in the game, get some playing time," said Staubitz, who scored his first goal of the season after sitting out 10 of the past 11 as a healthy scratch.
"We know we have some depth. Our style, we just have to dial it in and start playing our game. It doesn't matter who is in there. With some of the big boys out we have to play a simple game and grind that out, play our style of hockey."
Luongo, playing perhaps his final home game with Cory Schneider day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, made 28 saves as the Canucks came out flat despite a lineup similar to the one that beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.
"I don't want to make excuses for the group, we're all professionals and we know the intensity we need to be successful and we saw that in the third when we were playing our game we completely dominated the play," Luongo said.
Center Ryan Kesler was more critical.
"No intensity, no work ethic, there's a million different things I could list," he said. "It was embarrassing. If you put on this uniform you got to have pride in it and we didn't work the first two periods. … We need to prepare ourselves to battle."
Anaheim outshot Vancouver 11-5 in the first period, forcing Luongo to make a handful of good saves to keep it scoreless. The Ducks kept coming in the second period, scoring twice while outshooting the Canucks 14-4.
Beleskey opened the scoring on a power play 6:44 into the middle period, parking in front of Luongo and deflecting Cam Fowler's one-timer from the point past his glove. Staubitz doubled the lead two shots later, firing the puck past Luongo's glove from the edge of the right circle for his first goal of the season.
Luongo, who is expected to play in the season finale Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers, isn't ready to indulge any talk about being done with a Canucks team that was expected to trade him after he lost the No.1 job to Schneider a year ago. But he was critical of himself for letting in the Staubitz goal, refusing to use defenseman Andrew Alberts putting his stick on the release as an excuse.
"I didn't read the release and it kind of handcuffed me a little bit but that's not an excuse," Luongo said. "I have to make that save 100 times out of 100."
As for the rest of the Canucks' not showing the first two periods, coach Alain Vigneault was at a loss: "I don't have an answer for you."
But his Anaheim counterpart wasn't surprised.
"That's what usually happens," Boudreau said. "The young guys come up from the American League and overachieve, and the other team usually, for at least a period or two, says ‘Oh, look who they've got. They don't have this guy and this guy,' and they don't focus as well and I think that's what happened a little bit."