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Sharks 5, Wild 1 @NHLdotcom

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - If it wasn't for the Minnesota Wild, the San Jose Sharks might have already secured a playoff berth.

San Jose shook off three previous winless games against the Wild and beat Minnesota 5-1 Saturday night. The Sharks are still in danger of missing the postseason but they kept their late drive going.

In the midst of a five-game road trip, San Jose began the night in 10th place in the Western Conference. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals, including his team-record 45th of the season for the Sharks.

Joe Thornton had three assists and tied the Sharks' single-season record with 53 in only 44 games with San Jose, 7-1-2 in their last 10 contests.

"This was a huge win for us," defenseman Tom Preissing said. "Earlier in the year we hadn't played these guys very well. We are treating every game like it's a playoff game right now and each point is important."

Brian Rolston scored the lone goal for Minnesota, which lost for the fourth time in five games and fell further out of the playoff chase. Minnesota entered the night nine points out of eighth place.

"We're just a fragile team right now," Wild forward Wes Walz said. "It seems like when we have a little bit of adversity, when something goes wrong, you can feel it on the bench, it kind of sinks. Unless we get a goal or something really positive happens, it's tough. I think falling out of the playoff race takes the wind out of your sails for sure."

The Sharks, shut out by Detroit on Thursday, scored 3:39 in when Cheechoo one-timed a shot past the right shin guard of Manny Fernandez. Thornton tied the assist record on that goal.

Rolston got the Wild even in the second period, taking a nifty pass from Randy Robitallie and scoring on the breakaway.

Milan Michalek put the Sharks back on top about 6 minutes later when he tipped a centering pass from Patrick Marleau over the right shoulder of Fernandez.

"I didn't have much time or space to do anything else," said Michalek, who has 15 goals this season. "It's not the type of shot that I practice. I guess I got kind of lucky."

Marleau made it 3-1 in the third when he took a pass from Thornton and beat Fernandez. The assist gave Thornton his career-high 102nd point. Thornton added his third assist of the night on Cheechoo's record-setting goal later in the third.

"We didn't play as well as we would have liked to in Detroit," Thornton said. "We needed to start another little streak here. Getting two points here is big, especially since we haven't played well against these guys this season."

San Jose coach Ron Wilson credited the play of Vesa Toskala as well as Thornton and Cheechoo.

"Our goalie kept us in the game early," he said of Toskala. "We started out a little slow in the first period, but once we got our legs, we were OK. It's a wake-up call when your goalie has to constantly bail you out."

Toskala, who has helped the Sharks earn at least one point in 18 of his last 19 starts, stopped 24 shots. The biggest save came at the beginning of the third when he turned away Wild star Marian Gaborik on a breakaway that would have tied the game.

Fernandez, who made his season-high ninth straight start made 18 saves.

Only eight Minnesota players have scored since the Olympic break.

"If I would be 20, maybe I would put the skates on and try to get one," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "It's tough, especially when you see that they're trying hard. Our offense wasn't that bad. I think most of the mistakes were made by our defensemen. Our defensemen had a tough, tough game.

"We got beat by a better team, more disciplined."

Notes: Defenseman Matt Carle made his NHL debut for the Sharks, and scored with 17 seconds to play. Carle, a first-round pick in 2003, signed with the Sharks on Sunday after completing his junior season at the University of Denver where he led the NCAA in assists (42) and defenseman in points (53). ... LW Scott Thornton returned for San Jose after missing five games with a pulled rib cage muscle. ... Fernandez tied the single-season franchise record for games played by a goaltender (50). ... Rolston became the second Wild player to score 30 goals in a season, joining teammate Marian Gaborik, who has done it three times.

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