SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -In Anaheim's latest thrilling trip to San Jose, the difference between the Sharks and the Ducks clearly was smaller than the width of Scott Niedermayer's shin guard.
And that's exactly where Joe Thornton put the puck that decided the second chapter in what seems certain to be a dynamite rivalry this season.
Thornton's shot deflected off Niedermayer's leg and into Anaheim's net with 2:13 to play, and the Sharks rallied for a 4-3 victory over the NHL-leading Ducks on Saturday night.
Jonathan Cheechoo scored the tying goal with 7:14 left for the Sharks, who capped this Pacific Division meeting between two of the league's top three teams with a third-period surge that snapped Anaheim's seven-game road winning streak.
Thornton realized he got a bit of luck on his decisive goal, but the reigning league MVP thought his club earned the break.
"All 20 guys played great," Thornton said. "It was such a big game, and even the fans were a part of it. For Game 34 (of the season), it was incredible. Both teams were up for it. It's going to be a big game whenever we meet each other."
The clubs have been lukewarm rivals since entering the NHL two years apart in the early 1990s, but they've never been as good at the same time as they are this season. Anaheim has the NHL's best record at 25-4-6, while the Buffalo Sabres - who have 50 points - are the only other club with more points than the Sharks' 48.
"We knew these are going to be tough games, and it was an intense game out there," Niedermayer said. "That's just a good hockey game. We expected it."
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry scored early goals for the Ducks, who finished a five-game road trip with just their second regulation loss away from Anaheim all season.
After Dustin Penner and Cheechoo traded goals 31 seconds apart in the third, Jean-Sebastien Giguere had no chance when Thornton aggressively charged the net and bounced a power-play shot off the leg of Niedermayer while the Anaheim captain checked Cheechoo.
"We had lots of bounces go our way before this game, so this is the way it goes sometimes," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "I'm still real proud of our work ethic."
Mark Smith and captain Patrick Marleau scored 2:49 apart in the second period to erase a 2-0 deficit for the Sharks, who avenged a 5-0 thrashing in Anaheim in the clubs' first meeting last month. Evgeni Nabokov made 32 saves in his fifth victory in six starts.
Giguere made 25 saves for the Ducks, but the Sharks recovered from a lackluster 4-2 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night with one of their most complete efforts of the season. The Ducks were exhausted from their five-game road trip, and the Sharks knew this game meant a little more than others on the schedule.
"It was one of our better all-around games of the year," defenseman Kyle McLaren said. "We know they're a good team, and we don't feel like we have to prove to them that we are."
San Jose (24-10-0) matched its best start in franchise history with the win. If Anaheim had won, it would have had 58 points - more after 35 games than any team in NHL history except the 1929-30 Boston Bruins (61) and the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (58).
Getzlaf scored a power-play goal in the first period, and Perry got the Shark Tank grumbling when his innocuous second-period shot somehow slipped between the post and Nabokov, who hadn't allowed more than one goal in any of his previous five starts.
But Marleau scored from the slot a few minutes later, and Smith returned from a seven-game absence with an ankle injury to score a power-play goal on Thornton's rebound. Smith's goal was his first in 21 games since Oct. 9.
The Sharks said Mark Bell's fight with Shane O'Brien sparked them right before Marleau's goal - and the rivalry got even more heated when Teemu Selanne and Thornton exchanged shoves and gloved punches in front of the San Jose net late in the second period, leading to roughing penalties for both normally well-mannered stars.
Penner scored a power-play goal with 7:45 to play on a sharp pass by Perry - but Cheechoo tied it 31 seconds later. Last season's top NHL goal-scorer got his 11th of this season on Matt Carle's rebound, tenaciously keeping his feet while Sean O'Donnell checked him.
Notes: Cheechoo had three of his franchise-record five hat tricks against the Ducks last season. ... Thornton and Anaheim's Andy McDonald both extended points streaks to six games.