Thornton fired the puck wide left of the goal. The puck ricocheted off the back boards, climbed up the net and over the crossbar, hit goaltender Roberto Luongo in the shoulder, and dropped behind the goal line.
You couldn't have blamed the Canucks if they thought they were in for another rough night against a Sharks team that had defeated them nine straight times. But instead of following the same old script, the Canucks fought back for a decisive 4-2 victory against the Sharks at SAP Center.
"I think it feels good because we just beat a pretty good team on home ice," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "You guys have made us well aware that we've lost nine in a row to these guys, so to end that little skid and more importantly to get a big two points. We played well in Phoenix, but didn't get that second point. We know we still got two tough games ahead of us on this road trip. This was a big one."
During their drought, the Canucks lost five regular-season games to the Sharks and were swept 4-0 last season in a first-round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks won the first two games in the season series this year, beating the Canucks 4-1 in the opener in San Jose and 4-1 a week later at Vancouver.
The loss was San Jose's fourth straight, their longest skid since losing four straight March 6-12 last season. It was their first regulation loss at home after a 5-0-2 start.
"We were clearly outworked," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "In the real world, you work for eight hours, and in the hockey world, you work for 60 minutes. And we didn't even come close to that. ... When you have a busload that didn't show up to play, it's pretty hard."
The Canucks, under new coach John Tortorella, had gone 5-1-1 in their previous seven games before beating the Sharks in yet another strong game.
The Sharks (10-2-4) entered the game averaging 38.3 shots per game, but Vancouver outshot them 34-24. The Sharks had six shots in the first period and five in the second. The Canucks had 26 shots entering the final period.
"I thought it was probably one of our better games with our sticks, as far as stick on puck," Tortorella said. "They're such a big team, they protect the puck well. So, our sticks were on the ice, and I thought we disrupted them that way. I thought it was probably one of our better defensive games that way, and I felt we competed really hard. That's a good win for us."
Thornton and Mike Brown scored the Sharks' goals.
Luongo made 22 saves, while Sharks goalie Antti Niemi gave up four goals on 13 shots and was pulled for backup Alex Stalock at 5:22 of the second period with Vancouver leading 4-2. Stalock stopped all 21 shots he faced. Niemi has allowed 14 goals on 102 shots over his past four games.
"Nemo hasn't been sharp," McLellan said. "He was like the rest of the team. When you are back there with the pads, you get singled out a bit -- you think of all the goals and there are five other guys with skates in front of him. But he hasn't been sharp. He has not been sharp. He has to be better."
McLellan spent the rest of the night shuffling his lines, looking for some combinations that would work, with little success.
"In the last couple games, when our best players aren't our best players, we aren't going to win," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "That's what has been happening. Especially in the Western Conference. Our top guys have to be better, including myself. Tonight, we'll go home and look in the mirror and realize we all have to work. We didn't do a good job until the third period. It was just like the [5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday]."
Vancouver dominated the Sharks despite not getting a single point from anyone on their top line of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. All four goals came from members of the second and third lines.
"It probably won't happen too often," Higgins said. "Give them a little rest on that. It seems like they carry a lot of the burden. They're great players. Obviously, they want that burden. It's good that we can get a win without those guys getting points."
The Canucks (11-5-2) built a 3-2 lead in a wild first period.
Thornton started the scoring with his trick-shot goal, but Vancouver responded quickly, pulling even on Richardson's fifth goal of the season at 4:28.
"Quite comical the way the game started, but like we've been doing all year, we answered right back and we get ourselves right back in the game," Luongo said. "I thought we had a great second period, probably one of our best periods of the year."
The Canucks improved to 6-3-1 after giving up the first goal in a game.
"There's been some weird goals this season scored," Bieksa said of Thornton's goal. "I think that's right up there. I don't think a goal like that can really deflate you because it's just such a fluky goal, you almost laugh at it. So, I think we definitely wanted to get that first one because we know how good a team these guys are on home ice, but we've been playing from behind a lot this year, unfortunately. We've been used to it and been pretty good at it. To get the next one's huge, though. If they go up 2-0, it's a different story."
The Canucks took a 2-1 lead at 9:25 when Santorelli scored his fifth goal of the season, this one on a rebound. Bieksa forced a turnover by Tyler Kennedy, and Alexandre Burrows sent the puck ahead to Higgins, who fired a sharp-angled shot from the left circle. Niemi stopped Higgins' shot but couldn't control the rebound, and Santorelli knocked it home from the crease.
San Jose made it 2-2 at 10:45 when Brown scored his first goal with the Sharks and ended a personal 35-game stretch without a goal. Brown and James Sheppard got behind the Canucks' defense and didn't waste the opportunity. Brown sent a pass to Sheppard on his left, got the puck back and beat Luongo from close range.
Vancouver capitalized on another Sharks miscue to take a 3-2 lead at 18:55. This time, Sharks defenseman Jason Demers turned the puck over in the San Jose end. Burrows got to the puck and, as Demers and Scott Hannan converged on him, got it to Higgins, who fired a shot over Niemi's shoulder and into the net.
"It seemed like three guys went to the same spot and got a little tangled up, and I was hiding in the weeds a little bit and was able to chip one over his shoulder, and it got around him," Higgins said.
The Canucks increased their lead to 4-2 just 5:22 into the second period. Bieksa blasted a shot from near the blue line that deflected off Kassian and past Niemi. That was it for Niemi.
Couture nearly cut the Canucks' lead to one goal with just under 12 minutes left to play, redirecting a pass from Marty Havlat toward the net, but Luongo made a brilliant save with his left pad.
"No matter what happens in the game, we've been resilient as far as staying focused," Luongo said. "Just sticking to the game plan. Lots of things have happened already this year, but we've responded every time. That's a really good sign for our team."