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For the first three games of the first-round playoff series between the Ducks and Sharks, the road team has reigned supreme. Anaheim hopes to put a stop to that trend immediately in a crucial Game 4 on Thursday at Honda Center.
After the Ducks took the first two games of the series at San Jose by a combined score of 5-2, the Sharks prevailed for a 4-3 win in Orange County on Tuesday in a game that was thrilling from the start. Each team traded scores back and forth from the first period on until Patrick Marleau put San Jose up for good midway through the final period.
"We didn’t play a bad game in Game 3, but we didn’t play the way can play," Todd Marchant said. "We didn’t play with the same sort of hunger and urgency that we did in Games 1 and 2. Against a great team like
Despite that close loss two nights ago, the Ducks still feel confident and in control of their fate. They also realize the importance Game 4 represents, as the series is now guaranteed to go back to San Jose for a Game 5 on Saturday.
"With a 2-1 lead and Game 4 being in your building, it certainly puts us in the driver’s seat,” said Bobby Ryan. “It’s a game we have to have tomorrow night.”
Special teams play has been talked about in length during the series and its importance has been evident in each of three games. During victories in Games 1 and 2, the Ducks scored on 2-of-6 power play attempts while going a perfect 12-for-12 on the penalty kill. Anaheim tallied another power play goal in Game 3 (going 1-for-4 on the evening), but the Sharks managed to find the back of the net two out of three times with the man advantage and won the game.
|2009 Conference Quarterfinal|
"I'm sure if you look at every series that is being played, the momentum swings that go with power plays and penalty kills are huge," Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said. "I don't think that is going to change. Those are advantages that you have to take and utilize to put goals on the board."
For all the offensive talent of Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton and their high-scoring teammates in this all-California series, both clubs depend heavily on what happens at the blue line for everything from their power-play success to their physical tone.
Both defense cores are led by two veterans with All-Star credientials and Stanley Cup titles on their resumes. For Anaheim, it's Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger while San Jose counters with Dan Boyle and Rob Blake.
Five of the seven goals in Game 3 were scored by defensemen, including Pronger's first goal of the series. Three of Anaheim's top five scorers in the series are on the blue line, including co-leader Ryan Whitney, while Boyle's three-point game made him the league's second-leading playoff scorer among defensemen.
"This series is really a battle of some of the top defensive players in the league," Sharks center Jeremy Roenick said. "That's what it comes down to at some points. ... They've got more than just two amazing players on defense, but in all my years, I can't remember seeing a defenseman with as much grit and pride and determination and competitiveness as Dan Boyle. He hates to lose like nobody else."
Boyle showed the same type of two-way hunger continually exemplified by Niedermayer during his remarkable 18-year career. While Niedermayer was the third overall pick in the 1991 NHL draft, Boyle wasn't selected three years later. While Niedermayer has four Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe trophy, Boyle has one ring - and a few hard feelings about the franchise with which he won it.
Yet their approaches are strikingly similar: Both Niedermayer and Boyle prefer to create goals just as much as spending time defending against them.
"When Scott Niedermayer and Dan Boyle are on the ice, both teams are playing with four forwards," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "They're both dynamic, and they skate and join the rush so well. We want to encourage that as much as possible."
After spending several years across town from Niedermayer and Pronger in Los Angeles, Blake admires the Ducks duo's persistence even after they already achieved hockey's top prize together.
"These guys have been in a lot of playoff games over the last few years - more than Danny and I, that's for sure," Blake said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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