Burns scored the game-winner with 3:59 left in regulation, minutes after delivering a crushing hit to Ducks forward Corey Perry. He also had an assist on Joe Thornton's game-tying goal at 8:11 of the third period and finished the night with five hits and seven shots on goal.
"It's so easy to play with him," Thornton said of the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Burns. "He just goes. He's just a beast out there. Nobody can handle his size and his speed. It just forces you to try to keep up with him because he's going so fast. It's great to watch."
Burns always plays the game at 100 mph, but he said he had a "little bit extra" energy Thursday night against the Ducks because of the game's magnitude. The win gives the Sharks 99 points, two more than Anaheim, and moved them into first place for the first time since the end of play on Dec. 5.
"You realize how big the game was for both teams and obviously, playing here at home, we feel it's important to win these games," Burns said.
The Sharks trailed Anaheim by 13 points through games of Jan. 15. Since then, San Jose has gone 17-6-1 while the Ducks are 9-10-2.
"This was something we've had our eye on for a while," Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said of regaining first place. "Now that we've got a grasp of it, we can't look back. We've got to keep the pedal down and try to pull away. We worked this hard to get here. We can't give it up now."
The St. Louis Blues lead the NHL with 101 points; the Sharks are two points back, tied with the Boston Bruins.
The Ducks remained mired in a slump. They're 2-4-2 in their past eight games, but they have 12 games left to 11 for San Jose.
"We have a game in hand, and we get the (Florida) Panthers on Sunday," Perry said. "It's not over until the last game of the season has been played. We're still pushing to get that No. 1 seed."
With the game tied 2-2, Thornton sent a shot from along the left boards toward the crease; Burns, slashing through the low slot, redirected the puck past defenseman Bryan Allen and goaltender Frederik Andersen for the game-winner and his career-high 20th goal of the season.
"I just saw Burnsie's big body in front," Thornton said. "So just, yeah, throw it in there, and lucky it hit off him and he put it in the back of the net."
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made 16 saves, while Andersen stopped 25 shots.
"It was even all game and they get the bounce and we don't get the bounce," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's the way it goes. It was a tough game but that's what happens when two good teams go at it and fight tooth and nail. Everybody knew the importance of this game. Both teams looked focused and played to the end."
Selanne snapped a 1-1 tie 1:43 into the third period with his eighth goal of the season. Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf won a battle for the puck with Marty Havlat along the boards and sent the puck to Perry, who fired a shot from the low slot that bounced off Selanne and went past Niemi.
The Sharks nearly pulled even on a power play after Perreault went to the box for slashing Burns at 2:18. Logan Couture unleashed a shot through traffic from the right circle, and the puck was headed toward the goal line when Anaheim forward Daniel Winnik cleared it with an inch to spare.
Thornton made it 2-2 at 8:11, lifting a rebound over a diving Andersen. Joe Pavelski ignited a 2-on-1 rush with a slick pass to Burns off the left boards. Burns turned on the speed, then fired a shot that Andersen stopped, but the puck went directly to Thornton, who snapped it home.
"He is a wrecking ball," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Burns. "He's a one-man wrecking crew out there when he plays that way. His physicality showed up early."
Selanne nearly scored again with 5:41 left to play. His shot was deflected over the crossbar and onto the net, then bounced back and dropped in the crease and went over the goal line. The Situation Room in Toronto initiated a video review, but the referee said he blew the whistle to stop play when the puck was on top of the net. The play was not reviewable, and the no-goal call stood.
"It was too quick to blow the whistle," Perry said. "He sees the puck on top of the net. He's got to wait to see what happens."
Marleau gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 12:49 of the first period with a power-play goal. From behind Anaheim's net, Thornton fed a pass to Marleau in the lower left circle. Marleau ripped a wrist shot that hit the crossbar, then bounced off Andersen's shoulder and into the top of the net for a goal before dropping into the crease.
When Marleau scored, Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa was in the penalty box for roughing Wingels. Sbisa knocked Wingels into the boards. Then as Wingels tried to get up, Sbisa blasted him face-first into the boards again, drawing the penalty.
The Sharks entered the game with four power-play goals in their past 65 attempts, but they've scored a power-play goal in back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 18 and 20 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames. Anaheim allowed a power-play goal for the seventh straight game.
The Sharks outshot the Ducks 6-4 in a tight-checking first period.
"I thought we played a great period," Perry said. "We know they like to come out hard and try to win the game right then. We weathered the storm and stayed right with them. They got the power play goal but we played a great period."
The Ducks pulled even on Perreault's power-play goal at 17:40 of the second period. Anaheim was 0-for-21 in its previous six games on the power play and 3-for-53 in their previous 16 before Perreault one-timed a rebound past Niemi.
Niemi had stopped Perry's blast, but the puck ricocheted off his shoulder to Perreault in the low right circle.
The Sharks had killed off 1:54 of a tripping penalty to Couture, but defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic joined him in the box at 17:30 for interfering with Selanne. Perreault scored a 5-on-4 goal 10 seconds later.
Andersen stopped all 11 shots that came his way in the second, including one from Burns on a breakaway.
|PPG - Patrick Marleau (29) ASST: Joe Thornton (57), Logan Couture (27)|
1 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Mathieu Perreault (15) ASST: Corey Perry (32), Ryan Getzlaf (46)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Teemu Selanne (8) ASST: Corey Perry (33), Ryan Getzlaf (47)|
2 - 1 ANA
|Joe Thornton (11) ASST: Brent Burns (19), Joe Pavelski (33)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Brent Burns (20) ASST: Joe Thornton (58), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (19)|
3 - 2 SJS
|Luca Sbisa Roughing against Tommy Wingels|
|Logan Couture Tripping against Teemu Selanne|
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic Interference against Teemu Selanne|
|Bryan Allen Hooking against Joe Pavelski|
|Mathieu Perreault Slashing against Brent Burns|