If you’re looking for some Joe Thornton jokes, you’ve come to the wrong place. The Anaheim Ducks’ first-round upset of the San Jose Sharks — a No. 8 seed over the No. 1 team in the entire NHL — is too historic to get bogged down in ridiculing one of the all-time worst playoff chokers.
If Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, who led Anaheim to a 4-1 Game 6 win last night to complete a six-game victory, doesn’t get prime-time mention in this space, than somethings’ wrong. One number pretty much sums it up: .956. That was Hiller’s save percentage in the six games. The Sharks beat Hiller three out of four times in the regular season, and the only previous high-pressure game he had played in was a seventh game in the Swiss League playoffs two years ago. But when the dust settled, Hiller and the Ducks had the Sharks singing a familiar lament.
“To a man, they were better,” defenseman Dan Boyle was quoted by David Pollak in the Working the Corners blog. “Their goalie was better than ours, their D was better than ours. Their forwards were better than ours. I think we had a lot of chances in six games, but I think we missed a lot of opportunities when we had the chance.”
This was Boyle’s first go-round with the underachieving Sharks. I bet if you look back, you can probably find a similar concession speech from a player or two in the Sharks’ dressing room over the last few years. And the problem is, the Sharks play these postseason series as though they believe the above quote before the puck drops, not just after. They wilt at the sign of adversity. Even Thornton’s fight with Ryan Getzlaf off the opening faceoff couldn’t lift San Jose’s level.
Of course, Hiller had a huge hand in turning the Sharks into the ninth No. 1 seed to fall to an eighth seed since 1994. Whatever it is about the Ducks, they sure know how to find playoff goaltender. J.S. Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov are still celebrated for their efforts between the pipes in Ducks playoff runs past (including the ’06 Cup win), and now Hiller has written himself into the history books. And the story’s not over. Hiller will next get the stiffest test possible, as the Ducks will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Elsewhere in the Western Conference: