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Sharks 3, Lightning 1 @NHLdotcom

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - While the San Jose Sharks were fighting jet-lag, the Tampa Bay Lightning were rested and well-practiced - yet the Sharks still had all the energy in their meeting.

Naturally, Sharks coach Ron Wilson was pleased, and Lightning coach John Tortorella was furious.

Kyle McLaren, rookie Milan Michalek and Nils Ekman scored in the Sharks' sixth victory in seven games, 3-1 Monday night over the sluggish defending Stanley Cup champions.

NHL assists leader Joe Thornton had two more for the Sharks, who lost in Montreal on Saturday night before a late flight and an early Sunday practice. Instead of moping around the rink, the Sharks attacked Tampa Bay with their speed and skill to take an early lead they never relinquished.

``This was when your youth can be to your advantage, and it was for us,'' Wilson said. ``(Tampa Bay) flew across the country, too, but we are the ones who should be used to it. They looked sluggish at times, and we took advantage of that.''

Vesa Toskala made 21 saves, staying unbeaten since Nov. 8 while backing up Evgeni Nabokov. Toskala lost the chance for his third career shutout on Brad Richards' strange goal with 8:52 to play, but easily finished up his fifth consecutive victory.

Sean Burke made 23 saves in the ninth loss in 13 games for the Lightning, who skated without much passion until the third period. Though they were playing for just the second time in nine days, the Lightning couldn't keep up with the Sharks on the same ice where they clinched a playoff berth in 2003.

``I couldn't get my legs going,'' center Tim Taylor said. ``I felt terrible. We practiced very well (Sunday), too. We didn't have our legs at all. When they got up by two, it was hard to get through them. It's disappointing, but we have to find answers.''

Burke was strong in his second straight start for Tampa Bay in place of John Grahame, who was pulled late in a loss to Boston on Jan. 7.

``If it hadn't been for Burke, we would have been embarrassed,'' Tortorella said in his biting postgame comments. ``We should be embarrassed.''

The Sharks escaped last place in the Pacific Division with their ninth victory in 11 home games. After spending most of the season at the bottom, surging San Jose (21-17-5) now has 47 points, tying Anaheim and moving ahead of Phoenix with games in hand on both rivals.

San Jose dominated the 10 games against Eastern Conference teams on its schedule, finishing 9-1. The Sharks' final 39 regular-season games are against Western Conference opponents.

``We're not where we want to be, but we've got some games in hand and we're picking up our game,'' said Ekman, who scored a goal in his third straight game. ``We're confident, and we think we're on the right track. We're playing the way we should have from the start.''

Michalek began the scoring late in the first period on an excellent drop pass from captain Patrick Marleau, who has six points in four games. He has a career-best 30 assists just 43 games into the season.

San Jose controlled long stretches of play in the second period, but Burke sat deep in his net and turned back every shot until McLaren took Thornton's sharp pass and scored from the slot.

Playing the opener of its second four-game road trip already in January, Tampa Bay finally scored when Richards got a break. The star forward simply tried to stop a loose puck from leaving the San Jose zone when he fired a long shot off the blue line, but it somehow got past Toskala for his 13th goal of the season - his first in 10 games.

``It was a lucky bounce, but other than that, I saw the puck the whole game,'' Toskala said.

But Ekman finished it on a breakaway goal with 1:54 to play, taking another pass from Thornton, the NHL's third-leading scorer with 48 assists. McLaren also got an assist for his first multipoint game of the season.

Notes: Jonathan Cheechoo got an assist on McLaren's goal, extending his scoring streak to a career-best nine games. ... The Sharks weren't called for a penalty in the first two periods, but committed two in the third. San Jose's franchise record is a one-penalty game, most recently against Tampa Bay in 2003. ... The Sharks recalled G Nolan Schaefer from Cleveland of the AHL before the game to serve as Toskala's backup. Nabokov got two days off to rest his sore groin after getting pulled from Saturday's loss in Montreal.

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