When Bobby Ryan was named a finalist for the Calder trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, he owned up to having wondered how much fatter his stats would have been if he hadn't started the season in the minor leagues.
With wisdom beyond his 22 years, Ryan quickly let go of the past, choosing instead to focus on the wonderful possibilities that make his prospects so bright.
Ryan's future and present converged Thursday at the Honda Center in a stellar performance that elevated him to the cusp of stardom and perched the Ducks on the brink of a playoff upset of the San Jose Sharks.
Ryan scored twice in the second period, and Jonas Hiller stopped 31 shots as the eighth-seeded Ducks defeated the NHL's top-ranked team, 4-0, taking a 3-1 lead in their first-round series and becoming the first team in this series to take advantage of home ice.
Corey Perry added an insurance goal in the third and Drew Miller scored into an empty net with 40.1 seconds to play to clinch the victory for the Ducks, who made the playoffs only in their next-to-last game of the regular season and endured long stretches of inconsistency.
Despite all that, they can advance to the second round -- and a matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings -- on Saturday, when the series returns to San Jose's HP Pavilion.
The Sharks, who reconfigured their defense and changed coaches after three consecutive second-round playoff losses, have to hope that home ice will be an advantage on Saturday. It was no help to them in the first two games, won by the Ducks.
A sixth game, if necessary, would be played at the Honda Center on Monday. A seventh game would be played at San Jose next Wednesday.
With the Ducks trying to become the eighth No. 8 seed since 1994 to upset a No. 1 seed, Ryan extended his goal-scoring streak to three games with a patient and potent shot at 6:33 of the middle period that was deftly set up by Ryan Whitney and Ryan Getzlaf.
"Over the course of the year, you develop that," Ryan said of his patience. "It's not something that comes without time in this league."
Whitney got the play started in his own zone, controlling the puck along the left-wing boards and sending a lead pass to Getzlaf in the neutral zone.
Getzlaf started up the middle and cut to the left wing before pivoting, turning his back toward the net and passing the puck back to the onrushing Ryan. With a presence of mind that's rare in a young player, Ryan held onto the puck, faked a shot that fooled Jonathan Cheechoo and then whipped a 25-foot shot that goaltender Evgeni Nabokov had no chance to stop.
Ryan scored again at 10:13, after a 16-minute delay to replace the broken pane of glass that separates the benches.
The Ducks came out of the enforced break with great energy. As they swarmed around the net Corey Perry took a backhander that Nabokov stopped, but the goalie couldn't control the rebound. Lunging to one knee between the hash marks, Ryan rifled a wrist shot past the helpless goalie, sending the crowd of 16,830 into a happy frenzy.
He became only the second Ducks rookie to record a multi-goal game in the playoffs, a feat first accomplished by defenseman Francois Beauchemin on April 25, 2006, against Calgary.
Ryan didn't get his hat trick, but he won more than a few cheers early in the third period. Sharks defenseman Rob Blake lined him up for a hip check and Ryan not only withstood the test, he had Blake bouncing off him in a daze and limping to the bench.
"It's been a nice week, obviously," Ryan said. "That game Tuesday night got away from us, and we tried not to get too down about it. It was important to let that game go and focus on this one."
Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle made one lineup change, scratching center Petteri Nokelainen and instead putting Ryan Carter between wingers Mike Brown and George Parros on the fourth line. Nokelainen hadn't made much of an effect in the first three games, and his faceoff percentage was only 30%.
The first period was scoreless, though the Sharks had the better of the chances and had a 10-8 edge in shots. The Ducks had two power plays but didn't exert any sustained pressure on either advantage. The Sharks, who had scored on two of three power plays in winning Game 3, were blanked on their only advantage in the first period.
"I thought their team was extremely hungry," said Sharks Coach Todd McLellan. "They won all the board battles, and they were very committed."
But the Sharks did produce a few dangerous chances, including a shot by Dan Boyle that hit Hiller and then popped up in the air in the slot. Ryane Clowe swung and missed as he tried to bat it into the net from his position near the left post, as the crowd gasped.
Those same fans gave the Ducks a fine send-off by chanting "Bob-by!" in Ryan's honor. The Sharks were left to contemplate an imminent playoff failure and the Ducks were left to look ahead to better things -- following Ryan's lead.