CHICAGO - Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw scored during Chicago's strong second period, and the NHL-leading Blackhawks beat the sliding San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Friday night for their fifth win in six games.
Dave Bolland and Niklas Hjalmarsson also scored for the Blackhawks, who remain the league's only team without a regulation loss. Jamal Mayers had two assists and backup Ray Emery made 27 saves for his fourth win in four starts this season.
Toews skated up to Thornton with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the first period, jabbed him with his stick and then dropped his gloves. The star centres tangled up for a minute before Thornton dragged Toews to the ice and the linesmen skated in.
San Jose has dropped seven in a row after getting off to a 7-0 start. Three of the losses have come in a shootout or overtime.
Each of the Blackhawks' first three goals came on rebounds, including an ugly gaffe by Niemi in the second period.
Bolland skated toward the goal in the final minute of the first and let loose with a low shot that Niemi stopped with his right leg. But the deflection trickled off Niemi's left arm and Bolland tucked it into the open net while the veteran goalie frantically tried to find the puck.
The Blackhawks increased the lead to 2-0 at 3:05 in the second, taking advantage when Niemi whiffed on Kruger's bouncing shot from just inside centre ice. The puck bounced off the inside of the right post and slid across to the left side, where Kruger shot it into the open net as Niemi turned around in a full circle.
After Kennedy got the Sharks within one, Jason Demers was sent off for roughing against Patrick Sharp and the Blackhawks made the most of the power-play opportunity. Shaw's first rebound try was stopped by Niemi, but his second attempt popped up and went in off the goalie's back to make it 3-1 with 5:20 left in the period.
The Blackhawks (11-0-3) outshot the Sharks 17-8 in the second.
The lone bright spot for San Jose was Kennedy's first goal since Oct. 22, 2011, against the New York Islanders. The 26-year-old forward took a pass from Logan Couture on the left side, skated in on Emery and went to his backhand for the pretty score 5 minutes into the second.
NOTES: It was believed to be the first fight for Toews since December 2011, and the first skirmish for Thornton in about a year. ... G Corey Crawford is day to day with an upper-body injury, so the Blackhawks promoted Henrik Karlsson from Rockford of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup to Emery. The 6-foot-6 Karlsson has appeared in 26 NHL games, all with Calgary over the past two seasons. He has a 2.79 goals-against average. ... Niemi helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010. ... The Blackhawks beat the Sharks 5-3 on Feb. 5 in San Jose. They play again next Friday night at the United Center in the final scheduled meeting of the season.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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