Hiller, Ducks blank Sharks
The Anaheim Ducks have two things the San Jose Sharks covet: a Stanley Cup championship and the lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final.
Scott Niedermayer's power-play goal broke a scoreless deadlock 5:18 into the third period and lifted the visiting Ducks over the Sharks 2-0 at HP Pavilion on Thursday night.
Niedermayer who, as Ducks captain, hoisted the Cup in 2007, received a cross-ice pass from Ryan Getzlaf and ripped a low snap shot between the pads of Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov from the faceoff circle for the decisive goal.
Jonathan Cheechoo had handed Anaheim the man advantage with a foolish tripping on opposing forward Teemu Selanne at the side boards.
"There are things we did well, but the game really could have gone either way," Niedermayer said. "They came at us pretty good, but we still felt pretty good about how we played."
Getzlaf tallied the insurance marker for the eighth-seeded Ducks with 2:25 remaining, and goaltender Jonas Hiller stopped all 35 shots he faced for a shutout in a sparkling playoff debut.
"He stepped up and made a couple of saves and they hit a couple of posts," Niedermayer said.
"It was sure great to start that way," Hiller told reporters.
"I felt comfortable right away. I was happy to show what I'm capable of, but Sunday is a new game that starts 0-0."
Hiller has impressed since replacing a slumping Jean-Sebastien Giguere, posting a 10-2-1 record down the stretch.
However, Giguere has excelled come the post-season, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as top playoff performer in 2003 and backstopping the Ducks to a Stanley Cup title two years ago.
He also leads all active goaltenders with a .660 winning percentage (33-17) in the playoffs.
"Jonas is more than just a raw rookie," Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said in Hiller's defence. "He played in some world championships and the Swiss League, and won championships.
"He is a very calm guy. He doesn't get too high or too low."
The top-ranked Sharks won the Presidents' Trophy with a league-high 117 points this season, but were stifled by Anaheim's defensive discipline and smothering forecheck.
"We didn't create too many second opportunities," Sharks rookie head coach Todd McLellan said. "That was their goalie doing a great job around their net and us doing a poor job.
"Their goaltender swallowed a lot of pucks. We, obviously, have to be better in that area."
The end result was the Sharks relinquished the home-ice advantage that they earned by finishing first overall.
"Now San Jose almost has to win the next one, so that is some pressure on them," Hiller said.
'We will move on'
With McLellan behind the bench, San Jose is seeking to dodge the spectre of past playoff failures under former head coach Ron Wilson, who failed to lead them beyond the conference final in 2003 and the second round in each of the last three years.
Wilson now coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We had the majority of the play, but that is just hockey," Sharks forward Joe Thornton said. "We have got to keep people in front of the net, keep getting shots and it will work for us.
"We have got a good veteran club here and, last year, we lost Game 1 against Calgary. We will think about this for five minutes and then we will move on."
Nabokov finished with 15 saves in a rare home loss for San Jose, which went 35-5-2 at the Shark Tank during the regular season.
This is the first playoff series between teams from California teams since the Los Angeles Kings eliminated the Oakland Seals in seven games in 1969, and the first between the Ducks and Sharks.
Game 2 goes Sunday at San Jose (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET).
With files from the Associated Press