Among the three goalies the Western Conference top-seeded Ducks can choose to start Wednesday in their Stanley Cup playoff opener against the Dallas Stars, the one with the most wins doesn’t expect to be in net.
Jonas Hiller, who went 29-13-7 for the Ducks (54-20-8) but lost his final three games, was last off the ice at Monday’s practice and was passed over in favor of 20-year-old rookie John Gibson on Sunday in what was a meaningless game in the standings.
“I’ve had some sleepless nights … I’ve not been the happiest guy in the world to be around lately. You can ask my wife,” Hiller said after Monday’s team practice in Anaheim.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said he expects to finalize his decision about who will start Game 1 by Tuesday, and it probably will be 20-win rookie Frederik Andersen, who beat the Kings on Saturday.
Hiller, 32, was treated as a no-brainer playoff starter last year by Boudreau after he and then-rookie Viktor Fasth each had 15 regular-season wins for the Ducks. Anaheim was upset in a seven-game first-round playoff series by the Detroit Red Wings.
This year, amid the development of Andersen and the sudden impact of Gibson, who was named one of the week’s three NHL stars Monday after starting 3-0 with a shutout of the Vancouver Canucks in his NHL debut last week, Hiller is on the backburner for now.
He’ll also be a free agent at season’s end.
“All I can do is work hard,” he said. “Things change quick, and if you want to go all the way, it takes about 20 games. And 20 games ago, I had three shutouts in four games. All I can do is stay positive. I want to help the team get as far as possible and certainly you’d rather be playing more. But if it’s not me, I’ll still do everything I can to help the team.”
Boudreau said Hiller’s unease is “understandable.
“He is a big part of this,” Boudreau said. “If you go anywhere, you use everybody. … He’s really an important part of the puzzle, but sometimes you have to make decisions as to whether it’s Game 1, Game 2 or Game 3. The good news is you see him out there working really hard. We’re in position with three good goalies. I don’t think I can screw it up too bad whoever I choose.”
Hiller said he was “hoping to get asked” to play Sunday to try and snap his skid.
“You still have that competitiveness and will to be playing, to be the go-to guy,” he said. “Not being sure what’s going to happen is not easy, not sure what’s going to happen next season and all that stuff doesn’t make it easier.”
Gibson got the work in the Ducks’ Sunday overtime victory.
Gibson said he has “no idea” when he’ll play again.
“Just enjoying it right now, and will get ready whenever so I can go,” he said. “I think it’ll be easy with a group like this that helps you out defensively. Even when you let one in, the ability they’ve shown to score … there’s always a chance.”
Andersen, meanwhile, declined to comment about the Game 1 situation.
“It’s my first time being part of the NHL playoffs, now the fun starts,” Andersen (20-5) said. “I feel good, and if I’m called upon, I’ll feel comfortable going in. ‘Hills’ will figure it out, ‘Gibby’s doing good. We all want to contribute.”
Andersen debuted in relief of Hiller on Oct. 20 vs. the Stars in Anaheim as the Ducks rallied for a 6-3 victory.
“That’s something I won’t forget, but that’s in the past,” Andersen said. “You want to focus on what’s ahead, the opportunities, because this is a special group.”
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