Cheechoo scored three goals on assists from NHL scoring leader Thornton and the Sharks survived a wild third period for their third straight victory, 4-3 over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.
Cheechoo became the NHL's fourth 40-goal scorer this season with a gritty short-handed score in the second period and two more goals on rebounds of Thornton's shots in 4 1/2 minutes of the third period. While Cheechoo's finishing touch drew dozens of hats onto the ice, Thornton passed Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers with 95 points this season.
None of three scores would get high artistic marks, but a goal's attractiveness doesn't matter to the NHL's newest dynamic scoring duo - and that duo rarely has been better than it was against the Kings.
"Joe does a great job drawing double-teams and fighting off guys, and I just pick up the garbage in front," Cheechoo said. "I just always play hard, and if it happens, it happens. ... It's amazing to play with him, and we're making up points against teams ahead of us in the standings."
Cheechoo's franchise-record fourth hat trick of the season barely kept San Jose in front while the teams combined for five goals in a 4:53 span early in the final period.
Thornton has assisted on 26 of Cheechoo's 33 goals since they teamed up on the same line, usually with Nils Ekman.
"He never gives up on a play," said Thornton, who also leads the NHL with 70 assists. "He's just always around the net. It's great to play with him."
But Thornton had no interest in passing Jagr in the race for his first NHL scoring title.
"No, two points is all that matters," Thornton said.
Captain Patrick Marleau also scored as San Jose moved within three points of Anaheim and Edmonton for eighth place in the Western Conference. Vesa Toskala made 19 saves for the Sharks, who have won the first three contests of a key six-game homestand for their playoff hopes.
Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo and Mike Cammalleri scored for the Kings, who are winless in their last nine trips to San Jose since 2002. Mathieu Garon stopped 25 shots for Los Angeles, which remained in sixth place in the conference standings, three points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton.
While Sharks coach Ron Wilson praised his team's late-game poise in all three recent victories, the Kings lamented a tentative third-period performance.
"We've got to find a way to beat them," said Cammalleri, who scored his career-best 23rd goal. "We can't play hang-on hockey. We've got to go out and take it to them and make plays and be aggressive. If you play hang-on hockey in this league, they're going to beat you."
Cheechoo outworked two Kings to the puck for his short-handed score, sneaking out from behind the net and sliding it under Garon.
Thornton did most of the work on Cheechoo's second goal, gracefully holding off two defenders while moving in front of the net. Garon blocked his shot, but Cheechoo backhanded the rebound past defenseman Tom Kostopoulos and over Garon to put San Jose up 2-1.
"He goes to the net hard when he gets in front," Cammalleri said of Cheechoo. "It's like he sees red, you know? He bears down and makes sure the puck ends up in the back of the net."
Marleau scored his career-best 29th goal just 25 seconds later, stripping the puck from Nathan Dempsey and easily beating Garon. Marleau's season has overshadowed by Thornton's work with Cheechoo, but the San Jose captain has been consistently outstanding while playing with a rotating cast of linemates, currently rookies Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek.
Corvo scored his 14th goal of the season with 12:34 to play, but Cheechoo got his hat trick 16 seconds later. Cammalleri scored 29 seconds later, but the Sharks carried play during the final minutes, preventing Los Angeles from mounting a rally.
Notes: Kings C Craig Conroy got hit in the face with the puck during the first period when Cheechoo attempted to clear it. Conroy bled on the ice before going to the locker room, but returned for the second period. ... Thornton is approaching his career-high of 101 points with Boston in 2002-03. ... Cheechoo is four goals shy of Owen Nolan's single-season franchise record.
|Eric Belanger (15) ASST: Tim Gleason (19), Aaron Miller (6)|
1 - 0 LAK
|SHG - Jonathan Cheechoo (38) ASST: Joe Thornton (68)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Jonathan Cheechoo (39) ASST: Joe Thornton (69), Nisse Ekman (27)|
2 - 1 SJS
|Patrick Marleau (29) ASST: Milan Michalek (14)|
3 - 1 SJS
|Joe Corvo (14) ASST: Derek Armstrong (27), Mike Cammalleri (26)|
3 - 2 SJS
|Jonathan Cheechoo (40) ASST: Joe Thornton (70), Scott Hannan (16)|
4 - 2 SJS
|Mike Cammalleri (23) ASST: Derek Armstrong (28), Dustin Brown (14)|
4 - 3 SJS
|Steve Bernier Interference against Dustin Brown|
|Josh Gorges Holding against Sean Avery|
|Scott Thornton Roughing against Tim Gleason|
|Scott Thornton Unsportsmanlike conduct against Tim Gleason|
|Steve Bernier Hi-sticking against Mattias Norstrom|
|Tim Gleason Hooking against Steve Bernier|
|Ville Nieminen Hooking against Aaron Miller|
|Aaron Miller Hooking against Nisse Ekman|
|Mattias Norstrom Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Christian Ehrhoff Holding the stick against Derek Armstrong|