The way the Ducks tell it, their interest in beating the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday is rooted mostly in the perks of what accompanies winning the Pacific Division and not about avoiding a first-round playoff series against the Kings.
“No one’s ever mentioned that about the Kings,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The guys have fought long and hard to get to first place. … It’s about the satisfaction of playing for six months and being the best.”
By beating the Sharks in any fashion at Honda Center, the Ducks would clinch their second consecutive Pacific Division title and at least the No. 2 Western Conference playoff seeding. The Ducks trail the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues by one point in the conference. Each team has three games left.
A loss in regulation would leave the Ducks clinging to a one-point lead over San Jose with games remaining at the Kings on Saturday and versus visiting Central Division playoff qualifier Colorado on Sunday. San Jose plays host to Colorado on Friday and closes the regular season at Phoenix on Saturday.
In four Ducks-Sharks meetings this season, San Jose has won all three at home, including the most recent clash, 3-2, on March 20 when Sharks forward Brent Burns deflected in a goal with 3 minutes 59 seconds remaining in the third period. The Sharks haven’t played since Saturday.
The Ducks won the only meeting in Anaheim, 6-3, on New Year’s Eve, and they’re rejuvenated by a 3-0 victory over Vancouver in 20-year-old rookie goalie John Gibson’s NHL debut Monday, their first shutout since Feb. 28.
“We really needed that,” said Ducks forward Daniel Winnik, a former Shark who scored Monday’s opening goal and said the game-long, defensive-minded effort reminded him of Anaheim’s play during its 18-1 run from Dec. 6 to Jan. 15.
Anaheim gave up only 18 shots Monday, blocked 22, and pressured the Canucks into playoff elimination with 21 missed shots.
“When you look at that roll … we weren’t giving up very many shots,” Winnik said. “We’d gotten away from that. We really clamped down, and even when they had us hemmed in there, they didn’t really have a good shot. Guys were blocking, battling. That’s the way we’ve got to play.”
San Jose is paced by centers Joe Pavelski (39 goals, 37 assists) and Joe Thornton (63 assists) and forward Patrick Marleau (32 goals, 35 assists).
Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (31 goals, 55 assists) said the focus is to push for the best record possible to maximize home playoff games, not to avoid a historic first playoff meeting with the Kings, who had won eight games in a row before Thursday’s loss at San Jose.
“We’re going to have to go through everybody eventually if you want to get to the championship,” Getzlaf said. “The matter of getting the home ice can prove very beneficial down the stretch.”
The Ducks are aware analysts are saying that no one wants to face the Kings in the playoffs.
The Kings “are a team with a great goalie, they know how to win in the playoffs, are only a couple years removed from the Stanley Cup,” Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri said. “You want to try and make it as easy as you can and finish with the highest seed possible. I feel the excitement about what we did in Vancouver and finishing what we need to do [Wednesday].”
Boudreau didn’t commit to who will be in goal, with veteran Jonas Hiller trying to shake an 0-3 skid and rookie Frederik Andersen returning to the ice Tuesday after getting his head banged in Friday’s game.
“I don’t think [Andersen’s] ready to step into a game yet,” Boudreau said.
He said he’ll weigh who’ll start Wednesday by determining first “What’s the downside? … You say, ‘Boy, if this doesn’t work, this is really going to hurt us,’ or, ‘If this doesn’t work, it’s OK, we can rebound from it,’ and there’s your answer.”
Gibson said he hadn’t heard from Boudreau, and primary starter Hiller said he had “no idea” whether he’s in.
“I assume he knows I want to play,” Hiller said. “I feel like I’m on the track, but it’s Coach’s decision. If I’m not, I’ll try to work even harder in practice. [Monday] was a solid defensive game. With that, we’ll have a chance to win every night no matter who’s in the goal.”
DUCKS VS. SAN JOSE
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Etc.: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi has played in 62 of San Jose’s 79 games.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times