A Big Hiller To Climb
Could be that Brian Burke knows something or two about these obscure free agents he likes to sign.
With Burke's Maple Leafs in hot pursuit of Swedish free agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson these days, it had to warm the hearts of the Leaf Nation a little Thursday night to watch Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller stone the NHL's best team.
The Ducks, despite being badly outshot, stunned the San Jose Sharks 2-0. Hiller, who has taken over from veteran J.S. Giguere, is a 27-year-old Swiss who was personally scouted and signed in 2007 as a Euro free agent by Burke for Anaheim.
The native of Felben Wellhausen, Switzerland played 46 games during the regular season and Thursday night made his NHL playoff debut in style by blanking the Sharks, winner's of the Presidents Trophy for finishing first overall in the NHL this season.
Hiller wasn't brilliant, but he was very good against a San Jose team who came into these playoffs determined to exorcise the demons of playoff failures past. Instead, the new Sharks looked a lot like the old Sharks, while Anaheim, the 2007 Stanley Cup champions, looked cool and in control despite the disparity in shots.
Two of Anaheim's stars, Scott Niedermayer and Ryan Getzlaf, supplied the goals, and Getzlaf's solo effort after stepping out of the penalty box was a thing of beauty. On the other bench, meanwhile, it was another night to examine the inability of San Jose centre Joe Thornton to come up big during post-season play. Ron Wilson's frustration with Jumbo Joe became Todd MacLellan's last night.
Thornton has now scored five goals and 25 assists in 36 playoff games as a Shark. In his last 48 playoff games, he has six goals. This was supposed to be the spring that Thornton, working on a powerful forward line with Patrick Marleau and Devon Setoguchi, was supposed to have some new answers at his disposal under MacLellan, Wilson's replacement as head coach this season.
Instead, he had none, and the rope-a-dope Ducks jumped ahead 1-0 in this No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed matchup, only the second all-California matchup in NHL playoff history.
The Sharks will downplay the defeat, but the walls have to be closing in on them now. Essentially, the 82-game regular season was but a prelude to another playoff test for San Jose, and last night Thornton and Co. failed the test rather badly. Thornton did make a couple of important defensive plays, but on the attack he was barely noticeable.
The Sharks joined Washington as the only home teams to lose their playoff opener this spring, while the Devils, Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canucks and Penguins were able to use their home arenas to their advantage.