The Ducks proved Monday that the NHL's regular season means nothing and that indomitable will means everything in the playoffs.
Teemu Selanne and Francois Beauchemin scored second-period goals, Ryan Getzlaf added an insurance goal in the third and goaltender Jonas Hiller stopped 36 shots as the eighth-seeded Ducks eliminated the top-seeded San Jose Sharks with a 4-1 victory in the sixth game of their first-round playoff series.
The Ducks' triumph, played out before a jubilant sellout crowd at the Honda Center, set up a matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings that will start this weekend in Detroit.
The Ducks have faced Detroit in the playoffs four times. The Ducks were swept in the second round in 1997 and in the first round in 1999 but swept Detroit in the first round in 2003 and beat Detroit in six games in the 2007 Western Conference finals en route to winning the Cup.
The Ducks, who made the playoffs on the next-to-last day of the regular season, became the eighth No. 8-seeded team to upset a No. 1-seeded team since 1994.
The Sharks' league-leading 53 wins and 117 points were built on a flimsy foundation that collapsed because it lacked heart and grit, the bricks and mortar of playoff success. They became the fourth Presidents' Trophy winner to be upset in the first round.
"In the playoffs, it's all about feeling the momentum," Selanne said. "San Jose kind of cruised through the season. They didn't go through any bad times. Sometimes that's dangerous. We were more hungry, more ready."
"We are not an eighth seed," said defenseman Ryan Whitney. "Everyone in here knows that, and now everyone else sees it too."
The Ducks, who flailed most of the season and often made life harder for themselves by taking too many needless penalties, found their footing and their second wind after a series of trades pulled off by General Manager Bob Murray around the trading deadline.
They're younger and fresher than they were to start the season but were still able to rely on the magnificent defensive play of Scott Niedermayer to calm them and the youthful enthusiasm of Bobby Ryan to energize their offense.
"There's always a difference from the regular season to the playoffs, no matter what league you play in," Hiller said. "We always believed we could do this against that team."
The Sharks, who had exited the playoffs in the second round each of the previous three seasons, thought they had the right formula this season after they added mobility and championship experience to their defense by signing Rob Blake and trading for Dan Boyle.
They forgot to also add some heart, a quality the Ducks had in abundance Monday.
Getzlaf and Joe Thornton, who had yapped at each other during Game 5, fought each other two seconds into the game. Getzlaf got the worst of it, but Thornton appeared to be holding his right hand afterward and Getzlaf held a towel to his mouth.
Each got a five-minute fighting penalty, which left the teams at even strength. But the Ducks soon put themselves in a hole three straight times, on penalties by Rob Niedermayer, Corey Perry and James Wisniewski, and they paid the price with of a power-play goal by Milan Michalek.
Wisniewski was caught slashing Marcel Goc once too often and went to the box at 9:35. Michalek made his presence felt at 10:19 with his first point in the series, converting a rebound after Hiller had thrust out his right pad to stop a shot by Blake.
Almost despite themselves, the Ducks ended up with a four-on-three manpower edge just past the midway point of the period, and they capitalized on that to pull even.
The Sharks came out of a scrum down one man, but Selanne took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone 22 seconds later to negate that. However, Patrick Marleau was penalized for hooking Wisniewski at 12:19, and the Ducks needed only 14 seconds to score.
Chris Pronger passed the puck back to Getzlaf, whose fake fooled several of the Sharks. Getzlaf's delayed shot was deflected by Perry past Evgeni Nabokov at 12:33.
The Ducks killed a penalty midway through the second period before getting a power play they capitalized on for their go-ahead goal. Torrey Mitchell was sent off for hooking Andrew Ebbett to stop a two-on-one rush at 12:54, and the Ducks needed only nine seconds to score.
Selanne threw the puck in front, where it appeared to deflect off the stick of Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and into the net at 13:03. Selanne was credited with the goal, his first of the series, assisted by Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
The Ducks scored again at 14:26. Brown made a good play to get the puck to Ryan Carter, who made an even better play by banging a backhand pass off the boards and to Beauchemin at the blue line. Beauchemin threw his whole body into the shot, landing on his belly, but he quickly got to his feet to join his exultant teammates.
At a higher level
For Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, the NHL playoffs aren't like the Swiss League.