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Reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner Thornton on fire for Sharks @NHLdotcom

(CP) - The reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner isn't relinquishing those honours without a fight.

A scorching hot Joe Thornton has rocketed up the NHL scoring leaders in a late bid to give Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier a run for their money.

The San Jose Sharks centre is up to third in NHL scoring with 96 points (20-76) in 73 games after spending most of the season outside the top five.

Not that anybody has really noticed.

"You just kind of fly under the radar out here in San Jose," Thornton said Tuesday in an interview with The Canadian Press. "But I was like eighth or 10th two weeks ago so I think I've just surprised some people with a couple of hot weeks I've had here."

Hot? Try 36 points (7-29) in 25 games since the all-star break, and more recently 10 points (4-6) in four games.

"I was a little hurt in the first half of the year and now I'm healthy again and feeling good," said Thornton, who also credited linemates Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo.

Thornton was hurt earlier this season, but he didn't miss a game. He played through a broken toe, a broken finger, strep throat and a pulled groin. A team spokesman said he barely even missed practice during that stretch.

Now that he's 100 per cent, the numbers are back to Thornton's lofty standards. Last season he led the NHL with 125 points (29-96) in 81 games, capturing his first Art Ross and Hart Trophy titles.

He cherishes those honours even more today, cognizant that 19-year-old Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins may be on his way to one of many scoring titles over the next two decades. Crosby leads the NHL scoring race with 108 points in his sophomore season.

"If he's not going to win it, he's going to be in the top five every year," said Thornton. "He's just that kind of special player. Other guys will come along but he's going to be there and probably be the pace-setter for years to come and I think that's exciting."

As for the Hart Trophy, Thornton's late-season charge is probably too late to give him a chance. The favourites this season are Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, Lecavalier and Crosby.

"For me, I've always thought if you don't have a good goaltender, the team isn't going anywhere," said Thornton. "I think Louie (Luongo) is having a great year in Vancouver and so is Marty. I would pick either one of those guys (for the Hart)."

What's more pressing to Thornton is getting the Sharks deep into the playoffs and hopefully in the Stanley Cup final. The West is stacked with Cup-calibre clubs and the Sharks are as talented as any of them.

"I love our chances," said Thornton. "Our goaltending has been awesome and I think that's probably been our strength right now. We're just really deep up front. And Craig Rivet has come in and really helped us on the blue-line.

"But you look at the eight teams in the Western Conference, any of them can win it," added Thornton. "In fact, any nine teams depending on Calgary and Colorado and whoever gets in there. There's not one clear-cut favourite that's going to come out of the West. Any team can come out and I think it's great for hockey."

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