Antti Niemi

Jonas Hiller shoves Sharks back to No. 8

Sometimes you’re on in hockey. Every line seems to click on every cylinder. The passing is crisp, the cycling is synchronized and the defense is stout. Forwards crash the net and goalies stop every shot. And then sometimes you’re off. Pucks are thrown at empty spaces, the plays are disorganized and poorly executed. Goalies can’t seem to stop even the easiest shots.

And then sometimes you just face Jonas Hiller on the wrong night. For the Sharks, last night was mostly the latter.

With five games left in their regular season schedule, and holding onto a slim one point lead in the Pacific Division, San Jose had an opportunity to create a little separation from their competition on Wednesday night. They failed to do so, falling 3-1 in Anaheim and in the process slipping all the way back to the No. 8 seed.

Yesterday evening was a showcase of games with massive playoff indications for the Western Conference. Four of the six games scheduled featured teams battling for the three playoff spots that are still up for grabs. But don’t ask NBC Sports about that — they were airing Detroit at Columbus, a game with more name value than actual playoff significance, as the Red Wings have a playoff berth sewn up and Columbus has a similar hold on this title: one of the worst teams in the league.

I digress. It just wasn’t the Sharks’ night, as the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings both won while the Sharks faltered. This moved the Stars back into third and the Kings into seventh, while the Sharks possess a tenuous 1-point lead over current No. 9 Phoenix.

The Sharks were a bit sluggish and sloppy at times, but they had their chances on Ducks’ net minder Jonas Hiller. Anaheim’s goalie gave up only one goal to Ryane Clowe while facing 29 shots. Hiller is infamous among Sharks fans for sending San Jose home early in the 2008 playoffs, the same year that the Sharks won the President’s Trophy for most regular season points in the NHL.

Last night Hiller was in that same form, and after Bobby Ryan made it one-nil in favor of Anaheim, it became clear that it would be a tough road if the Sharks wanted to skate home with 2 points. Clowe’s goal came on basically an empty net while Hiller was tangled up on the ice with one of his defensemen. That would end up being all the Sharks would get on the night.

San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi was almost as impressive, giving up 2 goals on 27 shots, but it proved to be one too many for an opponent like Hiller. A sloppy attempt at a 6-on-5 in the waning moments of the final period culminated in a called 3rd goal for the Ducks after Dan Boyle dove to block a shot and knocked the net off.  Game, Mighty Ducks.

The final five games of the season are probably the most monstrous regular season match ups that the Sharks have seen in a long time. Tonight they cap off their back-to-back road trip in Phoenix, facing off with a hungry Coyotes team that is now on the outside looking in, behind the Sharks in the standings by 1 point. Then they split home and road match-ups with Dallas, currently the third seed, and Los Angeles, currently at seventh. In the process, the Sharks can either steal the third seed, slide into one of the final two, or blow it and miss the playoffs completely.

It will be fun to watch, but only one thing’s certain for the Sharks: they’re glad they won’t have to face Hiller for the remainder of the season.

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