- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

SAN JOSE, CALIF. (AP) - After storming through the regular season to earn 117 points and home-ice advantage in every postseason round, the San Jose Sharks thought they were ready to erase their label as the NHL’s biggest playoff underachievers of the past few years.

After two discouraging home losses to eighth-seeded Anaheim, they’re getting perilously close to carving that label in stone.

Jonas Hiller made 42 saves in his second phenomenal playoff start, and Andrew Ebbett scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period of the Ducks’ 3-2 victory over the top-seeded Sharks on Sunday night, putting Anaheim up 2-0 heading home to the Pond.

Bobby Ryan scored 4 minutes in, and Drew Miller added a third-period goal that turned out to be the winner for Hiller, the young Swiss goalie showing immediate postseason acumen. Just as in their 2-0 victory in Game 1, the Ducks were defensively tough and offensively fortunate against San Jose, which lost just five Shark Tank games in regulation during the entire regular season.

“We knew we could play well,” Hiller said. “But to come into the rink of the best team in the league and win the first two games, we don’t expect that, although we have to think it’s possible. … I’m sure this is not what people expected from us. We have the two wins, but the Sharks are still the best team this year.”

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Anaheim.

An eighth seed has beaten a top seed seven times in the NHL playoffs since 1994, and playoff-tested Anaheim is ripe to add its name to the list. San Jose must win four of the next five games, including two in Anaheim, to avoid what would be a disastrous end to a season in which the Sharks won the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy.

Ryane Clowe’s goal early in the second period ended more than 174 minutes of scoreless playoff hockey for the Sharks dating to last season. Jonathan Cheechoo also scored, and Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves for the Sharks, who outshot Anaheim 44-26 after a 35-17 edge in Game 1.

Although the Ducks’ roster is loaded with veterans of their Stanley Cup-winning team two years ago, all three scorers in Game 2 got their first playoff goals. The Sharks are getting none of those lucky bounces or surprising efforts on offense, a fact underlined by that monstrous but meaningless edge in shots, as well as an 0-for-12 performance on the power play in the series.

“I’m not too sure that the guys in there, after the two games, I think if you went through and asked each of the guys, they’d think they’re the better team,” said Todd McLellan, the Sharks’ rookie coach. “They’re not getting the puck luck, and you have to give Anaheim credit. They found a way to win.

“It’s not like we’ve been spanked and we’ve got our tail between our legs. We play the same way, do the same things, create the same number of chances, eventually it’ll go in for us.”

While McLellan seems confident in his approach, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle wasn’t altogether pleased with his team’s play, largely citing the penalties that put San Jose on the power play.

“I didn’t think we played particularly well in the hockey game,” Carlyle said. “In the second (period), we got running around, and made a lot of mistakes with the puck.”

McLellan broke up his top-line pairing of Joe Thornton and captain Patrick Marleau for Game 2. The move didn’t generate much new offense, but at least Clowe’s second-period goal snapped the Sharks’ playoff scoreless streak at 174 minutes, 2 seconds, dating to their four-overtime elimination loss to Dallas last spring.

In the third period, Ebbett deflected the puck off the back of Nabokov’s pad from near the goal line on a play set up by the speed of Teemu Selanne, who slipped behind the San Jose defense and fired the puck toward the net to set the sequence in motion.

Miller then put the Ducks up 3-1 on a rebound goal with 6:43 to play, but Cheechoo reduced the deficit 37 seconds later by barging past two defenders. The Sharks kept pushing, and Christian Ehrhoff hit the post with 2:10 to play, but Anaheim hung on.

“I don’t feel a lot of panic around here, that’s for sure,” Clowe said. “We’re going to go on the road, and maybe we’ll be a little more relaxed. We’ll probably get some of those bounces.”

Devils 3, Hurricanes 2, OT

At Raleigh, N.C., Travis Zajac scored off his own rebound at 4:58 of overtime to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference series.

Zach Parise scored for the third straight game and assisted on Zajac’s winner to help the Devils rebound from a home overtime loss in Game 2.

Brian Gionta added a goal, Zajac assisted on Parise’s goal, and Martin Brodeur made 28 saves for New Jersey. Ryan Bayda and Chad LaRose scored their first career playoff goals, and Cam Ward stopped 32 shots for Carolina.

Game 4 is Tuesday night in Raleigh.

Flyers 6, Penguins 3

At Philadelphia, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards got their first goals of the series, Claude Giroux and Simon Gagne also scored, and the Flyers held on to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Carter scored 3 minutes into the game, and Richards connected 2:15 later. Gagne had a short-handed goal and an empty-netter, and Jared Ross scored his first NHL goal. Evegni Malkin scored twice, and Rob Scuderi had a goal for Pittsburgh.

Game 4 is Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

Canucks 3, Blues 2

At St. Louis, Steve Bernier broke a tie in the opening minute of the third period with Vancouver’s third power-play goal.

Mattias Ohlund and Daniel Sedin also scored, and Roberto Luongo made 24 saves to help the Canucks take a 3-0 series lead.

David Backes and Andy McDonald scored for St. Louis.

Game 4 is Tuesday night in St. Louis.

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