The buzz from the hockey media before Thursday’s Sharks-Ducks game was about how each team was going to be physical. Everyone remembered how both teams were whistled for 64 minutes in penalties at the end of San Jose’s 3-2 win in Anaheim on April 5.
And after the first 20 minutes of Game One of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series, the teams combined for 35 hits, with Anaheim holding an 18-17 edge. For the game, the Sharks outhit the Ducks, 33-27. Ryane Clowe
, Brad Lukowich and ex-Duck Travis Moen each had five hits to lead San Jose.
“I thought we were fine when it came to the physical play,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “Both teams forechecked very hard with lots of bumping and grinding.”
“This is playoff hockey,” defenseman Douglas Murray
, who had four hits, said. “You have to bring the intensity. Guys who aren’t usually hitters hit and guys like myself who play physical have to be even more physical.”
But according to McLellan, physical play is more than hitting.
“Before the game, we talked about what physical play meant,” he said. “It’s not always about the physical checks. It’s about faceoffs, loose ice, getting to the net. Those things come into our definition of physical play.”
Considering that San Jose lost Game One, 2-0, McLellan knows one thing about his club’s physical play: “I think we can be better.”
When McLellan talked about “loose ice,” he spoke about how San Jose couldn’t take advantage of rebounds off Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, who recorded a shutout in his first National Hockey League playoff game.
“We didn’t create many second opportunities,” McLellan said. “That was due in part to them doing a good job in front of the net and their goaltender swallowed a lot of pucks. We have to find a way to get our stick in front of the net.”
“Zero goals,” defenseman Dan Boyle
said. “We’ve got to be a little hungrier than that. We’ve got to create our opportunities in front of the net. We’ve got to be better there. They’re not doing anything we haven’t seen before. On the other hand, we didn’t execute like we did before.”
JUST THE FACTS
Thursday’s game was the first Stanley Cup Playoff game between two California teams in 40 years. In 1969, the Oakland Seals lost to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games. That playoff series was just the first of two for the Seals in their 15-year history…San Jose is now 10-11 in first games of a playoff series. Last year, the Sharks lost Game One of their quarterfinal series to Calgary as well as the first game of their semifinal series against Dallas. San Jose eliminated Calgary in seven games, but bowed to Dallas in six…Tonight’s game was the 12th time San Jose was shutout in the playoffs. Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff blanked the Sharks on 21 shots in Game Six of last year’s quarterfinals…Anaheim’s goal scorers on Thursday, Scott Niedermayer and Ryan Getzlaf, didn’t score a goal during the regular season series against the Sharks.
The Sharks worked hard all season to grab home-ice advantage for the playoffs. They led the NHL with 117 points, earning the Presidents’ Trophy and setting a franchise record.
Yet after suffering a 2-0 loss Thursday night to the Anaheim Ducks at HP Pavilion in Game One, they saw their home-ice edge in this first-round series melt away.
Just don’t expect to see the Sharks sweat.
“I’m sure there’s a stat out there that most teams that win the first game win the series,” Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray
said. “At the end of the day, every game is critical.
“What I’m saying is we’re not going to make too big a deal out of it. We’ve got to move on to Game Two. The later you get in the series, the bigger the game gets.”
Losing the first game of the series certainly doesn’t guarantee disaster for the Sharks. But history tells us it sure doesn’t help.
The Sharks have played 20 playoff series in their history before this season. Ten times they lost their opener. In those series, they went 3-7. Ten times they won their opener. They went 6-4 in those series.
“We’ve got a good, veteran club here,” Sharks center Joe Thornton
said. “Last year we lost Game One against Calgary. So really, we really got to think about this for five minutes then let it go and get ready for Sunday.”
The Sharks dropped a 3-2 decision at home to Calgary in Game One of their first-round series last year. The Sharks bounced back to win Game 2, 2-0, and won the series in seven games.
“It’s been done,” Murray said. “It’s been done plenty of times. We’re just going to focus on the second game.”
That Calgary series last year was a rugged, energy-zapping marathon, the type of opening-round series the Sharks hope to avoid this year.
More times than not, teams that win the Stanley Cup take care of their business quickly in the early rounds and save that juice for the conference and Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks’ goal is to KO the Ducks early.
They can still accomplish that goal, but their job got tougher after a Game One loss.
“It’s still early,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle
said. “We didn’t think we were going to sweep these guys. Just got to work a little harder. No matter how hard you think you worked out there, obviously it wasn’t enough.”
After dropping Game One, the Sharks will undoubtedly play with desperation Sunday in Game 2 to avoid digging a two-game hole. The Sharks have started 0-2 five times in franchise history and lost all five of those playoff series.
Last year in the conference semifinals against Dallas, that’s exactly what happened. The Sharks lost the opener 3-2 in overtime at home then lost Game 2, 5-2. They headed to Dallas and lost in overtime again, this time 2-1. The Sharks rallied to win the next two games before suffering a series-ending 2-1 loss in Game Six in four overtimes.
“Tonight was important,” Thornton said. “We lost. And Sunday’s going to be a little bit more important. We’ll be ready to go.”
“Obviuously,” Boyle said, “you never want to go down 0-2 going into another team’s building. That goes without saying. I’d like to see us play the same way defensively. I thought it was pretty good. Offensively we need to improve and create more opportunities, Grade ‘A’ opportunities.”
Despite the loss, the Sharks remained upbeat, largely because of their defensive effort. They took 35 shots and limited Anaheim to 17.
The Ducks took only 11 shots in the first two periods, thanks in large part to an aggressive, effective Sharks defense. Anaheim scored on just its 13th shot, a power play goal with 14:42 left to play. Defenseman Scott Niedermayer took a pass in the right circle and rifled a shot just inside the post, beating Evgeni Nabokov to his glove side.
“No, I didn’t face that many shots,” Nabokov said. “But in a game like this, one shot made a difference. Their power play made a difference. We have to come back and keep our heads up and get back to work tomorrow and work on some things.”
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he plans no major overhaul for Game Two.
“Coming in here, I don’t feel distraught or anything,” McLellan said after the game. “I thought we played a pretty good game. We’ve got to improve in some areas. … I would have been a lot more disappointed if we’d showed up and laid and egg. … It’s a starting point. The series isn’t over by any means. It’s one loss. We move on.”
Thornton sounded as if he couldn’t wait to get back on the ice for Game Two.
“We did a lot of good things,” Thornton said. “I thought we came out good. We hit a couple posts, but I thought we deserved a better fate. They played well and they capitalized on their chances. We’ll do better on Sunday.
“We felt like we had the majority of the play, but that’s just hockey. We have to keep going in front of the net and keep getting shots and eventually, hopefully, they’ll go in for us.