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Sharks 4, Stars 1 @NHLdotcom

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - In between the scoreboard-watching and frequent goal celebrations during San Jose's impressive surge toward the playoffs, the Sharks still find time to marvel at Joe Thornton's impressive passing.

In fact, Thornton's skill might be the biggest reason San Jose is making a playoff surge at all.

Captain Patrick Marleau tied the Sharks' single-season points record, Jonathan Cheechoo scored his 49th goal and San Jose won its fourth straight game down the playoff stretch, beating the weary Dallas Stars 4-1 Sunday night.

Marleau and Cheechoo both got their goals on second-period passes from Thornton as the Sharks moved into a seventh-place tie with Edmonton in the Western Conference standings with 91 points - and San Jose has played two fewer games than the Oilers.

Marleau scored his 84th point on a 5-on-3 power-play goal in the second period, tying Owen Nolan's franchise record. Cheechoo, who scored 104 seconds earlier on a one-timer from Thornton, already surpassed Nolan's team record for goals March 25.

"I should have had a couple of goals earlier with (Thornton)," said Marleau, who also set a franchise record with his 20th power-play goal of the season. "I'm glad he stuck with me and found me the third time."

Thornton also set a league record for the most points by a player who changed teams during the season. Thornton, acquired in a trade with Boston on Nov. 30, is second in the NHL with 113 points - one more than Bernie Nicholls scored for the Kings and the Rangers in 1989-90.

The Sharks were all smiles as they packed up for a quick trip to Phoenix for a game Monday night - well, all except Cheechoo, who had to speed home to pick up the travel bag he forgot to bring to the arena.

Rookies Steve Bernier and Patrick Rissmiller also scored and Vesa Toskala made 21 saves for the Sharks. They got their fourth victory in the eight-game season series with the Stars, whose frustrations with a tough stretch of their schedule resulted in a series of cheap shots leading to 28 penalty minutes in the first two periods.

"We thought they might be a little weary, especially this time of year, and psychologically they can go up or down," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "You want to jump a team like that as quickly as you can, and we had a lot of energy."

After going unbeaten on a three-game road trip, San Jose returned to a sold-out Shark Tank to begin a brutal stretch of five games in seven days. The Stars, who played in Phoenix on Saturday night, know a bit about brutal schedules as well.

"We're going to run into that during the playoffs," forward Bill Guerin said. "We're going to be tired. We're going to be more beaten up than we are now, so we can't use that as an excuse. We have to get ourselves ready to go."

Sergei Zubov scored and Marty Turco made 32 saves while taking two foolish minor penalties for the Stars, who lost for the fourth time in six games. Turco got a roughing penalty in the second period and an interference call in the third for checking Marleau to the ice behind his net.

"You put a desperate team on the power play nine times in the first two periods, and you are going to get what you earn," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "The referees were a non-factor tonight. It was all us."

Mike Modano, the Stars' leading scorer and a perennial problem for the Sharks, missed his second straight game with a left knee injury. Defenseman Willie Mitchell also missed the game to rest an undisclosed upper-body injury - but with the Pacific Division champions essentially locked into the No. 2 seed, Dallas' main concern is keeping its key players healthy for the postseason.

Zubov got his 13th goal during a 5-on-3 Dallas advantage to cut the Sharks' lead to 2-1 in the second period, but San Jose replied when Thornton stole the puck behind Dallas' net and instantly found Cheechoo.

And then the Stars lost it. After Turco roughed Bernier to set up a 5-on-3 disadvantage, Marleau got his career-best 34th goal on a cross-ice pass from Thornton. Steve Ott then snapped, earning 14 minutes in penalties by pummeling Sharks rookie Grant Stevenson for unclear reasons.

Notes: Thornton, the NHL's second-leading scorer behind the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, has assisted on 32 of Cheechoo's 42 goals since the trade. ... Tippett on Mitchell: He has a bit of a bump, slash or bruise. We're going to rest him for a couple of days." ... The Sharks signed two draft picks during the weekend. RW Devin Setoguchi was their first-round pick last summer, and D Dan Spang was a second-round selection in 2002. ... Mitchell had played in 14 straight games since joining the Stars last month in a trade with Minnesota.

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