ANAHEIM -- In a perverse way, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle managed to find a bright spot in the darkness of Wednesday night's 6-2 thrashing by the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center.
"The good news," Boyle said quietly, "is we didn't lose by playing hard. We lost because guys didn't want to be there."
Anaheim right wing Corey Perry -- held without a shot when the two teams met in San Jose last Saturday night -- lit up the scoreboard with a hat trick capped by his NHL-leading 50th goal of the season. But the general tone coming from the losing team's locker room indicated most of the damage was self-inflicted.
"The team in black buckled it up and they came to play very hard," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, referring to the Ducks. "I thought our guys gave themselves permission after a long, real good stretch, to take the night off, and we're all disappointed about that."
The loss cost the Sharks a chance to pull three points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who lost earlier in the evening to the Carolina Hurricanes, in their battle for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
And it also might have breathed new life into an Anaheim team that still hasn't clinched a playoff berth but might end up as San Jose's opponent in the first round.
Boyle and Ben Eager scored for the Sharks, but Anaheim also got tallies from Cam Fowler, Teemu Selanne and Jason Blake against goalie Antero Niittymaki, who was making his first start since Jan. 13.
Niittymaki wasn't happy with his own performance, but it's unlikely the reincarnation of Jacque Plante would have fared much better on a night when San Jose forgot to play a disciplined game and paid the price as the penalty kill gave up four goals.
By starting Niittymaki, McLellan ended Antti Niemi's streak of 34 consecutive starts that began Jan. 15 and was the second longest in franchise history. Over that period, Niemi had established himself as San Jose's No. 1 goalie by going 25-4-4 with a 2.05 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
But before the game, McLellan rejected the notion he was using a backup goaltender against the Ducks, saying he wanted to have a tandem ready to go for the playoffs.
"We're coming here to play and win," McLellan said after the morning skate. "We expect Niitty to perform and be part of that."
That, of course, didn't come to pass.
Even though the Sharks were trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes on goals by Perry and Fowler, it was the second period that was their undoing. First, San Jose failed to score against Anaheim netminder Ray Emery while holding a two-man advantage for 1:14.
Then they took five minor penalties that helped the Ducks push their lead to 6-1 before the second intermission on three power play goals after one at even strength.
Sharks (47-24-9, 103 points) at Coyotes (42-25-13, 97), 7 p.m., CSNCA