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Hiller's heroics have Sharks in a hole

by Eric Stephens

Eric Stephens | Correspondant

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Frustration is seeping into the dressing room of the top-seeded San Jose Sharks and they can look at Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller as the direct cause.

Being the 14th goalie to turn in a shutout in his first NHL playoff game apparently wasn’t enough for the Swiss-born Hiller, who turned aside another 42 shots Sunday night as the Ducks took commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinal series with a 3-2 Game 2 victory.

Bobby Ryan, Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller supported Hiller with the first goals of their respective playoff careers, with Ebbett breaking a 1-1 tie midway through the third period and Miller providing the eventual game-winner at the 13:17 mark, stunning a sellout crowd of 17,496 at HP Pavilion.

Hiller didn’t get a shutout this time but an argument can be made that he turned in a better performance. The second-year goalie, who was a backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere for much of the regular season, came up big against a Sharks team that tested him often.

"He continues to make the big saves and gives us an opportunity to win," Miller said. "That’s what you need out of your goalie that’s playing that night. He got it done tonight."

With the Ducks clinging to a one-goal lead in the final four minutes, Hiller stopped San Jose winger Milan Michalek from in close twice in a 30-second span.
Like in Game 1 when the Sharks hit two posts in the third period, good fortune came Hiller’s way when Christian Ehrhoff rang a blast off the right post with 2:11 remaining.

"He’s doing his job really good right now," said forward Teemu Selanne, who assisted on Ebbett’s goal. "All the success these days starts from the goaltending. And Jonas has been great."

The 27-year-old Hiller credits the four years he played in the Swiss National League A with HC Davos for preparing him for this moment.     

"It’s not like it’s my first playoff series," Hiller said. "Even though I didn’t play over here, I played back home in Switzerland. I played a couple of playoff series. We were Swiss champion twice. Just knowing that I can play well in important games."

In another tightly-played struggle, it was another disappointment for the Presidents’ Trophy winning Sharks, who desperately needed the home win after dropping Game 1 to the eighth-seeded Ducks on Thursday night and losing the home ice they gained after a franchise-record regular season.

In the first two games, San Jose has outshot its counterpart by a 79-43 margin. But they’ve been only able to get two past Hiller – both coming Sunday night on goals by Ryane Clowe in the first period and Jonathan Cheechoo in the third.

"We had a lot more chances tonight than last game," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "He’s playing well. He’s doing what he’s got to do. We’ve just got to find a way to win."

The first all-California playoff series in 40 years now shifts back to Anaheim for Game 3 on Tuesday night.

To get back into the series, the Sharks will have to find a way to awaken their dormant power play. Despite finishing third in the regular season, San Jose has gone 0-for-6 in each of the first two games.

"Obviously, we still need to get the power play going," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We gotta find a way to score there and that would be our biggest concern. But a lot of the other issues we had heading into Game 2 from Game 1, we addressed and we were better in those areas."

An argument can be made that they were better. Much better. But they’ve still got to find a way to get pucks past Hiller, who led the Ducks in their playoff run to end the regular season and is now taking on a starring role in this series.

"That’s the object of the game, isn’t it?" Boyle said, directly. "Score more goals. Yeah, we had more shots tonight. But you’ve got to score more goals. That’s it. Plain and simple."

The Sharks can look to the past for hope. Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 2002 despite dropping its first two games at home in the opening round. Carolina did the same in 2006.

But their task just got much tougher.

"We’re down 2-0," Boyle said. "That’s the reality of things. Most teams don’t come back from that. We’ve got to decide if we’re going to be like most teams or do we want to be something special. I certainly believe in the guys in the locker room here.

"This is going to be a tough task. I think we’ve got the special guys, the right guys to turn this thing around. We’ll see what happens."

Sharks winger Milan Michalek pressured the Ducks’ Andrew Ebbett into a turnover in the offensive zone. Ryane Clowe jumped on the loose puck and circled into the high slot before slipping a wrist shot under the right leg of Jonas Hiller for his 10th career playoff goal and San Jose’s first of the series. Finally, the sellout crowd of 17,496 had something to cheer about.

The Sharks’ Jonathan Cheechoo was a thorn in the side of physical Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger all night. Cheechoo was willing to engage the one-time Norris Trophy winner, even losing his helmet during one battle for the puck in the corner. The tenacious play paid off as Pronger took two cross-checking penalties in the second period.

Ducks winger Erik Christensen didn’t get an assist on the play but he skated in front of Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov just as defenseman James Wisniewski’s shot at the point arrived on net. Nabokov made the save but couldn’t control the puck, which allowed Bobby Ryan to punch a rebound off the right post. In the same motion, Ryan stayed with the play and banged in his first NHL playoff goal.

Aided by three power plays drawn against the penalty-prone Ducks, the Sharks outshot Anaheim, 17-3, in the second period. All of the activity did result in a goal by Clowe at the 5:38 mark but Hiller stopped the 16 others, several of a difficult variety. Ironically, Clowe’s goal came at even strength.

The Ducks continue to win the special teams battle. After going 0-for-6 on the power play in Game 1, San Jose couldn’t convert on six more chances in Game 2. For good measure, Ryan’s power-play goal in the first period – the second for Anaheim in the series – came just four seconds before Clowe’s tripping minor was set to expire.


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