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Hiller makes quite the impression in playoff debut

by Eric Stephens
SAN JOSE -- Ever since the Anaheim Ducks arrived here for their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, they tried to tell everyone that Jonas Hiller would have no problem handling the pressure of his first Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Looking like the seasoned veteran that he really is, Hiller couldn't have had a better postseason debut, and the No. 8 seed Ducks rode their hot goalie to a surprising 2-0, Game 1 victory against the top-seeded Sharks in front of a stunned sold-out crowd Thursday night at HP Pavilion.

In doing so, Anaheim snatched the home-ice advantage in the best-of-7 series that San Jose worked all season to obtain, winning the Presidents' Trophy with a franchise-record 53 wins and 117 points. Game 2 is Sunday in San Jose (10 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS). But the Sharks were unable to solve the Swiss-born Hiller, who stopped 35 shots. There was a little luck involved as well as the second-year NHL goalie benefited from San Jose defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle hitting the post in the decisive third period.

"He's been on his game for a while," Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer said. "We have a good feeling when he's in there. He made some big saves tonight."

Hiller said he felt no pressure in the days leading up to the game.            

"I actually felt all right," he said. "It's not my first playoff atmosphere even though it's a little different over here. But I felt like it was nothing special. I was just happy to get the start and be able to show what I'm capable of. I'm happy the way it went but I also know I've to keep going."

Usually it's Jean-Sebastien Giguere who has come up with the big performance for Anaheim in the postseason. But Hiller grabbed the net from the struggling Giguere down the stretch and starred during their 10-2-1 playoff push to end the regular season.

"He played very well again for us tonight," Niedermayer said. "I don't think we were surprised. He's a great goalie. Mentally, he knows how to prepare and be ready to roll."

Right from the start, Hiller looked as if he's been in the net for many years. Actually, the 27-year-old has, joining the Ducks in 2007 after spending four years in the Swiss National League A where he was named the best goalie twice and led HC Davos to two championships.

"With Jonas, it's a different situation," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "He wasn't a raw rookie. He's played in some world championships and the Swiss League, and won championships. Those are not what you would say easy situations to play in. There is a lot of pressure that goes with that.

"He is a very calm guy. He doesn't get too high or too low."

With the win, Anaheim continued its late-season hot streak, having now won 11 of its last 14 games dating 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."

Having spent three-plus seasons with the Ducks before being dealt at the trade deadline, Sharks winger Travis Moen wasn't surprised at Hiller's performance.

"Hillsy's a good goalie," Moen said. "He played well for them tonight. I knew he'd come up with a strong performance, for sure."

Locked in a scoreless duel that stretched into the third, Anaheim gave Hiller the edge he needed with help from its special teams.
After Teemu Selanne drew a tripping penalty on San Jose winger Jonathan Cheechoo, Niedermayer converted 58 seconds into the man advantage when he got a nice cross-ice feed from Ryan Getzlaf and one-timed a shot between the pads of the sliding Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

All three of Niedermayer's goals in the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup run either tied or won games, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

"Nothing surprises me about what Scotty does," Getzlaf said. "Scotty's proven it for many years. He's a winner wherever he's been. He's a leader. He's the guy we're going to look to for those big goals and big defensive plays as well."

Getzlaf wrapped up a big win for the Ducks with 2:25 remaining when he whistled in a 30-foot wrist shot just under the crossbar past Nabokov after jumping on a turnover by Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the neutral zone.

Niedermayer said the Ducks didn't gain any huge advantage in the series by taking Game 1.

"It's the only one we can get tonight," he said. "That's what we wanted to do and we did. But there's a long way to go. We know the next game's going to be even tougher. We have a couple of days to prepare and rest up so we can be fresh and ready to go again. We still have a lot of work to do."
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