Despite a spectacular regular season, the San Jose Sharks couldn't cope with the rugged Anaheim Ducks — or a history of post-season failure.
Teemu Selanne scored the winning goal on a second-period power play and Chris Pronger posted two assists as the Ducks eliminated the Sharks from the playoffs with a 4-1 triumph in Game 6 of their Western Conference quarter-final at the Honda Center on Monday night.
"In the playoffs, it is all about feeling the momentum," Selanne said. "San Jose kind of cruised through the season.
"They didn't go through any bad times [and] sometimes that is dangerous. We were more hungry, more ready."
Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and an assist, and Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin also tallied for the tenacious Ducks, seeded eighth yet just two years removed from having won the Stanley Cup.
"We never stopped believing," Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said.
"We believe we're a better team than we were during the [regular] season," Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer told CBC Sports.
Netminder Jonas Hiller turned aside 36 of 37 shots in the series-clinching win, enough to earn Anaheim a date with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
"There is always a difference from the regular season to the playoffs, no matter what league you play in," he explained. "We always believed we could do this against that team."
"He is everything to our team right now," Perry said of Hiller, competing in his first NHL post-season.
"He stayed in there, facing 40 shots a night and he had two shutouts ... He is leading our team."
Anaheim is the eighth No. 8 seed since 1994 to upset the No. 1 team, a feat accomplished by San Jose in 1994 and 2000.
"We're not an eighth seed," Ducks defenceman Ryan Whitney said. "Everyone in here knows that and now everyone else sees it, too."
Milan Mihalek had the lone goal for the top-ranked Sharks, who captured the Presidents' Trophy with an NHL-high 117 points and set franchise records for wins (53) and home wins (32).
They also outshot Anaheim in every game of the series.
But the Sharks couldn't shake the long-held notion that they're a perennial contender prone to folding in the playoffs — a reputation forged by past failures under former head coach Ron Wilson, who couldn't guide them beyond the conference final in 2003 and the second round in each of the next three years, and now under rookie head coach Todd McLellan.
"When the other goaltender is the star, you're likely not winning the series," said McLellan, who replaced Wilson last June 12.
"It does take a little something different in the playoffs," noted Niedermayer, winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as top playoff performer in 2007.
'I knew he wouldn't back down'
Feeling the frustration — and likely feeling responsible for providing leadership — Joe Thornton of the Sharks, one of the league's more gentlemanly players, began yakking with opposing centre Ryan Getzlaf before the puck dropped.
No sooner did the puck hit the ice than they dropped the gloves and engaged in a spirited fight.
"I knew he wouldn't back down from it," Carlyle said of Getzlaf. "I have never been a coach that puts a guy out there to fight.
"He made the decision. I'm glad he did it."
Penalty trouble put the Ducks in an early hole as Hiller kicked a point shot from Sharks rearguard Rob Blake into the slot, where Mihalek whacked the rebound inside the right post 10:19 into the contest.
"We took one too many penalties, too many stick fouls and stuff," Getzlaf said. "But the aggression penalties we'll take."
Perry was serving an elbowing minor at the time — a seemingly deliberate elbow to the head of Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo expected to be reviewed by the NHL — but he swiftly made amends by tying it with Sharks captain Patrick Marleau watching from the penalty box.
Parked at the top of the crease, Perry swatted a Getzlaf rebound out of midair and into the net with a slick backhand at the 12:33 mark for his third goal of the series.
It remained 1-1 until Selanne was credited with his first goal of the series on a pass into the crease — intended for Perry — that banked in off the stick of Sharks defenceman Christian Erhoff 13:03 into the second period.
Beauchemin scored just 83 seconds later on a slapshot that struck the stick of Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle en route to the back of the net.
Beauchemin leaned so hard into the shot that he fell sideways, and broke the shaft of Boyle's stick.
Getzlaf completed the scoring with 2:54 remaining in the third period.
"Winning always feels good," Hiller said. "Winning a series is even better and winning against the best team this year is one of the best feelings."
This marked the first playoff series between rival teams from California since the Los Angeles Kings eliminated the Oakland Seals in seven games in 1969, and the first between the Ducks and Sharks.
All told, Anaheim and San Jose have met 90 times in regular-season play, splitting the series 41-41-8.