VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -San Jose Sharks coach Ron Wilson shook up his lines to try and spark his struggling forwards. It worked, but he was quick to give most of the credit to Joe Thornton.
Thornton, the Sharks' top center, scored one goal and set up others by Joe Pavelski and Jonathan Cheechoo during a 3:20 span early in the third period to break a tie and lift San Jose to a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
Evgeni Nabokov finished with 24 saves, keeping the Sharks in the game early with a handful of highlight stops before the struggling San Jose offense got untracked. He was credited with an assist on Steve Bernier's goal.
After averaging just two goals through their first five games, an offense that finished third in the Western Conference last season finally broke loose.
"We thought we were close to breaking through," Thornton said. "We were just throwing pucks at the net and working hard and getting chances."
Bernier tied the game with his first goal of the season on a 5-on-3 with five minutes left in the second period, and Thornton took over in the third. He won a faceoff to set up Pavelski's first goal on a power play 2:33 in, scored his third goal of the season at 3:45, and set up Cheechoo s first of the year from a sharp angle at 5:33.
"In the third period Joe Thornton was a force, and when he starts playing like that, it's easy to be on a line with him and it's hard to play against him," said Wilson, who admittedly dangled ice time with Thornton like a carrot for his slumping forwards.
Wilson took a struggling Cheechoo off Thornton's line to start the game and again early in the third period, but put him back with Thornton after Pavelski's goal. Cheechoo responded with an assist and a goal, his first points of the season.
"I think I got his attention when I put Pavelski out on that power play early in the third period and Pav scored and Cheech responded," Wilson said. "Hopefully that will get them going."
It was Nabokov who got the Sharks going early.
Vancouver had the first three power plays of the game, but couldn't take advantage, failing to register a shot during a 44-second 5-on-3. When they did get chances, Nabokov was great, robbing Daniel Sedin on a wrist shot in the slot and on a redirection from the same spot.
Taylor Pyatt opened the scoring as San Jose's parade to the penalty box continued in the second period, but Nabokov kept it close with a diving save to rob Sedin on an empty net and San Jose took over when the Canucks started taking penalties.
"The big save by Nabby got the momentum going and we scored in a bunch," Cheechoo said. "And that's something we haven't done all season."
With top defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell in the box, Bernier was sent in alone by Patrick Marleau, slipping the puck between the legs of Roberto Luongo.
When Canucks wing Matt Cooke was whistled for roughing early in the third, the Sharks only needed six seconds to take the lead for good. Pavelski scooped up a long rebound and patiently outwaited Luongo before tucking the puck into an unguarded net.
"You've got to get the first one to get two," Pavelski said. "It maybe took a little longer than some people would have liked but we stuck in there."
Thornton's goal 72 seconds later was similar, with the big center outwaiting a sprawled Luongo alone in tight.
"In the third we saw an elite player, one of the three top players in the NHL, bring his game to another level and Thornton made some great plays," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "That's why he's an elite player, that's why he's an all-star in our league, and we didn't have anything to respond with."
Henrik Sedin rounded out the scoring on a power play with 6:43 left, and Luongo finished with 30 saves.
Notes: Vancouver D Alex Edler played after being called up from Manitoba in the AHL earlier Monday to replace Lukas Krajicek, who is day to day with a sore foot after blocking a shot Saturday. ... Canucks D Sami Salo, out since breaking a bone in his wrist in training camp, had his cast removed and could return within the week. ... San Jose C Jeremy Roenick returned after missing the last game with an injury. ... The Sharks, who have played five of their first six games on the road, play at home Thursday and Saturday before heading back out on the road for four straight.