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Pacific: Hiller taking lead in Ducks' net

by John Kreiser
Jean-Sebastien Giguere may have been the All-Star starter for the Western Conference, but Jonas Hiller is getting the majority of the playing time in goal for the Anaheim Ducks.

Hiller has started six of Anaheim's last seven games, including all four since the All-Star break. In the other, he played more than 45 minutes after Giguere was pulled after allowing two soft goals in a 2-1 road loss to the New York Islanders on Jan. 21.

The Ducks won three of their first four games after the break with Hiller in net, most recently a 21-save performance in a 3-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

"Hiller's making the big stops when we need it," defenseman Chris Pronger said after the win against Buffalo. "We've had to rely on him. It's big to have two goalies like that. It doesn't matter which one you throw in, you know you have a guy back there that can win you a game or hold a lead when you need it. We're starting to get that confidence in those guys and in ourselves with the way we're playing defensively. It's a sign in the right direction. We just hope to continue it."

For the season, Hiller is 14-10-1 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. In his last 11 appearances, he's 6-4-0, but has stopped 240 of 261 shots for a .920 save percentage and a 2.05 GAA.

Giguere hasn't been the same since returning to the team after his father's death in mid-December, and coach Randy Carlyle has been using Hiller more and more.

"We think this is the best route to take in this situation, and we're going to live with it," Carlyle. "It's not like he (Giguere) is not going to play for our hockey club again. He's going to get his opportunity.

"As I've said, we have 1A and 1B. Jonas Hiller has come in and given us the goaltending that's necessary to have some success the last little while, but we're not afraid to go back to Giguere. He knows he's going to get his opportunity."

Hiller said he's surprised he's getting so much playing time.

"You never hope that the other guy's struggling or anything," he said after beating Buffalo. "But as a backup, those are when you get the chances, and I know that. So I'm going to try to keep it up.

"You can see Jiggy's not happy the way he's played and not happy that he's not getting a lot of starts right now, but he's not angry at me. He still supports me and helps me if I need anything. So it's awesome to work together with him."

Stars starting to shine -- Don't look now, but the Dallas Stars are finally playing like the team that took Detroit to six games in the Western Conference Finals last spring.

The Stars started so slow they found themselves last in the Western Conference in early December. Since then, they've tightened up defensively and generated enough offense to begin the week in a tie for sixth in what has turned into a wild scramble for the final four playoff berths.

Dallas entered the week with a four-game winning streak, including a 7-3 win at Columbus on Jan. 31.

"We've been playing differently and playing better as a team and I think it shows on the ice," center Mike Ribeiro said. "We're playing hard right now, and we've got a long stretch of games at home this month, and we need to be focused for that."

Dallas has a chance to move up even more in February, when the Stars play 10 of their 13 games at American Airlines Center -- where they are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

"We've been playing great at home and I feel like we have an edge there," goalie Marty Turco said of the February schedule. "It would be great to get some separation from the pack now that we're in the playoff race and never relinquish it."

Mr. Zero -- Winning 25 games before the break wasn't enough to get San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov onto the Western Conference All-Star team. Perhaps he'd have made it if the Sharks' first two games after the break were included.

Nabokov was brilliant in the Sharks' 3-0 victory at Colorado and a 2-0 home victory over Phoenix, stopping all 55 shots he faced and setting a franchise record for the longest shutout streak, going 170:58 before allowing a goal to Chicago's Jonathan Toews early in a 4-2 loss to the Blackhawks on Jan. 31.

Nabokov held the previous mark of 166:07, which he set in the spring of 2007.

"It's a team effort," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of his goaltender's hot streak. "Obviously he's been tremendous the last few games. He's as sharp now as he has been all year and we're excited about that. The other players around him did a really good job. Not a lot of second chances and very good penalty killing."

Nabokov said he didn't make any changes to his routine after the six-day layoff, but noted that as the season moves into the second half, the games are getting tighter and more intense.

"I didn't do anything differently," said Nabokov, who allowed just one goal early in his final game before the break. "It's a little tighter out there, and we had to adjust and we did."

"We have the puck a lot and we like to play in their end as much as possible. That's why the other team doesn't get as many shots. When we backcheck, it's not just to look around, either. ... But you're going to have breakdowns sometimes, so it's nice to have a goalie like Nabby in there."
-- Ryane Clowe

The Sharks are among the NHL's best defensive teams, partly because they tend to dominate the puck and work hard. That has left Nabokov's contribution overlooked at times -- but not by his teammates.

"We have the puck a lot and we like to play in their end as much as possible," forward Ryane Clowe said. "That's why the other team doesn't get as many shots. When we backcheck, it's not just to look around, either. ... But you're going to have breakdowns sometimes, so it's nice to have a goalie like Nabby in there."

He's back -- Injuries to Phoenix forwards Steven Reinprecht and Peter Mueller created an opening for the return of center Joel Perrault, who has had his own bouts with injuries this season.

Perrault had 29 points in 26 games with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage before being called up for the Jan. 31 game against Buffalo. Before that, he spent time recovering from a concussion sustained during a game of shinny just before training camp.

"I worked hard on my game again and I'm glad to be healthy now," Perrault told the Coyotes' Web site. "They gave me a lot of ice time and I got a lot of confidence down there. My goal was to get back here and I didn't know how long it was going to take. It took 26 games. That's not too bad; it was a good training camp for me."

The effects of concussions can last a long time, and there's no guarantee a player will fully recover. Perrault knows he's fortunate his symptoms have disappeared.

"Concussions are the worst injury you can get because you just don't know how long it's going to take to recover," he said. "It could be two days, it could be a week, it could be two months, it could be a year. And this was my second one, so it took a little more time than I expected, and it was frustrating because it happened in summer hockey. But some things happen and everything happens for a reason. That's what I've been told and what I've been telling myself, and it's true. So I'm back here now and I'm trying to forget about what happened and move forward."

Ice chips -- San Jose's Claude Lemieux played his 1,200th NHL game when he suited up Phoenix on Jan. 29. It was his third game with the Sharks after a 5 1/2-year layoff. He's scoreless in five shots in four games, average 7:57 of ice time per game. ... San Jose lost at home to Chicago for the first time since March 17, 2003, when the Hawks won 4-2 at the Shark Tank on Jan. 31. The loss also ended a 13-game winning streak against the Blackhawks, who hadn't beaten San Jose since the teams' met in the second game of the 2005-06 season. ... The Phoenix Coyotes came into the All-Star break on a roll, but stumbled after play resumed, going 0-3 with home losses to Anaheim and Buffalo sandwiched around a 2-0 loss at San Jose on Jan. 29. The 2-0 loss to Buffalo two nights later was particularly frustrating because the Coyotes outshot the Sabres 28-21 and went 0-for-7 on the power play. "The power play let us down," captain Shane Doan said. "That falls on me and that falls on the guys who are the offensive leaders and get the opportunity on the power play. We're the ones who should take the heat on this one." ... Doan scored twice in the 7-3 loss to Anaheim on Jan. 27, making him a 20-goal scorer for the ninth consecutive season. That ties a franchise mark held by Dale Hawerchuk and Keith Tkachuk. ... The Ducks have at least one power-play goal in nine consecutive games and are 10-for-30 (33.3 percent) in that span. Anaheim has at least one extra-man goal in 14 of its last 15 games, going 18-for-57 (31.6 percent). ... Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf tied Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the NHL scoring lead in January with 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists). Defenseman Scott Niedermayer led the NHL in assists in January with 16 and was in a four-way tie for second in the points race with 17. Anaheim rookie Bobby Ryan tied Calgary's Michael Cammalleri for first in goals with 11. ... The Kings are becoming a hot ticket in Los Angeles. The Jan. 28 game against Chicago drew a full house of 18,118. It was the seventh sellout in the Kings' last eight home games. Los Angeles currently is on a five-game trip and doesn't return to the Staples Center until Feb. 12 against Calgary. ... The Kings hope to get rookie Oscar Moller back during the trip. He hasn't played since injuring his shoulder while representing Sweden in the World Junior Championship. ... Dallas goaltender Marty Turco won for the first time in his 11 NHL decisions at Detroit when the Stars beat the Red Wings 4-2 at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 29. Turco fared well at The Joe during his college days at Michigan, but was 0-8-2 in regular-season NHL decisions before the win (He did win a playoff game there last spring). "It's been a long time coming," Turco said of the win. ... In contrast, Turco has dominated Columbus throughout his career. He improved to 13-1-2 lifetime against the Blue Jackets with last Saturday's 7-3 win at Columbus. Overall, the Stars are 16-2-4 in their last 23 meetings with the Jackets.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.
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