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Thornton adds scoring punch to slick playmaking skills

by John Kreiser /

Joe Thornton is the NHL's top setup man. But he's also proving he can shoot, too.

Thornton is a big reason the San Jose Sharks haven't lost in regulation since Feb. 20. Thornton leads the NHL in assists, but he also has eight goals in the Sharks' last six games, including a third-period hat trick last week in Phoenix.

Thornton won't win the scoring title, as he did a couple years ago, and probably won't reach 100 points this season. But he's been a big reason -- perhaps the biggest reason -- that the Sharks haven't lost in regulation since Feb. 20. 
Five up -- Five players who've been producing:

Johan Franzen -- It's too bad for Franzen that March is gone as he had a month he'll never forget. He had 14 goals in 13 games for Detroit last month, capping his outburst by getting his sixth game-winner by scoring in overtime against Nashville -- breaking a team record set by Gordie Howe on the same day the Wings celebrated “Mr. Hockey's” 80th birthday.

Dan Ellis -- Tuesday's first-period problems aside, Ellis has been the key to Nashville's late run at a playoff berth. Ellis had back-to-back shutouts and blanked Detroit through regulation on Sunday before allowing the game-winner in overtime. His play has helped the Predators rally into eighth place in the West.

David Krejci -- The big rookie has given Boston's playoff drive a major boost. He has three goals and eight points in his last four games -- a welcome contribution for a team that has struggled to score.

Pavel Kubina -- Kubina has been playing his best hockey since signing with the Leafs in 2005. The big defenseman has five goals and 10 points in the past nine games.

Derek Roy -- Roy is riding a 10-game point-scoring streak, during which he has five goals and 17 points. His goal on Tuesday was his 32nd of the season, a career high.

Five down -- Five players who've been struggling:

Ryan Smyth -- This has not been the kind of season the Colorado Avalanche expected when they made a major commitment to Smyth last summer. He's had two major injuries and hasn't scored a goal since returning to the lineup from a shoulder problem eight games ago and has only 14 goals and 37 points in 53 games.

Roberto Luongo -- It's been a tough grind for Luongo, who's dealing with being a new father while trying to get the Vancouver Canucks into the playoffs. The second part isn't going too well -- Luongo has lost five of his last six decisions, including Tuesday's 4-2 loss to Colorado. He hasn't had a shutout since Jan. 3.

Cory Murphy -- Murphy was a healthy scratch Saturday night and has been in and out of Florida's lineup recently. The first-year defenseman, who was being counted on for his offense, hasn't not scored a point in 11 straight appearances.

Mike Smith -- Smith has struggled since coming to Tampa Bay from Dallas at the trade deadline. He was in goal for Monday's 2-0 loss to Atlanta and has lost three-straight games and seven of his last nine starts.

Miroslav Satan -- As one of the few New York Islanders with offensive skills, much more was expected from Satan, who's having the worst season of his NHL career. He's had just one goal in 18 games, and his 15 goals with two games left this season have him on track for a career low.

Injuries, news and notes -- Tampa Bay captain Tim Taylor opted not to play one more game. Taylor hasn't played since undergoing offseason hip surgery and turned down a team offer to play in the season finale at Atlanta. He'll retire, but hopes to stay with the team in some capacity.

Out -- Montreal's dramatic comeback win at Buffalo on Friday came at a big cost: Captain Saku Koivu broke a bone in his left foot and may not be ready for the playoffs. … New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador is done for the regular season due to a lower body injury, though the Devils hope he'll be ready for the playoffs. … Boston lost forward Chuck Kobasew for 4-8 weeks with a broken tibia sustained when he was hit by a shot from teammate Zdeno Chara -- the winner of the hardest-shot competition on All-Star Weekend. ...  Center Mike Comrie joined the New York Islanders' lengthy injury list by hurting his hip after missing a game with the flu … San Jose defenseman Craig Rivet has missed the Sharks' last three games with an upper-body injury. … Nashville forward Darcy Hordichuk injured his knee on Friday and hasn't played since, though he could be back by the weekend.

Returning -- Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek should be back for the playoffs. He's missed five games with a lower-body injury. The Canadiens also got defenseman Mark Streit back on Tuesday after he missed a game with a foot injury, and Guillaume Latendresse also returned on Thursday after missing four games with a back injury. … Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere returned on Sunday after missing five games with back spasms. … San Jose forward Ryan Clowe for the first time since Oct. 27 on Sunday night against the Coyotes. He missed more than five months with a knee injury that required surgery. … Columbus rookie defenseman Kris Russell returned Sunday after missing five games with a groin injury. … Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf returned Sunday after missing three games with a shoulder injury … Florida expects defenseman Noah Welch to play this week; he's missed all but four games this season with a shoulder injury. … Ottawa forward Cody Bass returned on Saturday after missing more than two months with an ankle injury. … Islanders rookie center Frans Nielsen had a goal in his return to the lineup on Saturday after missing a month with a shoulder injury. … Darren McCarty was in the lineup for Detroit last Friday for the first time since 2004. The Wings had re-signed him this season and recalled him from the minors on March 7, but he went down with a rib injury before he could play a game. Forward Valtteri Filppula also returned last Friday after missing four games with a groin injury. … Carolina forward Chad LaRose returned to action on Friday after missing 21 games with a broken leg, getting a goal and an assist in a 7-1 win over Atlanta. Forwards Ray Whitney (knee) and Justin Williams, out since knee surgery in December, returned Tuesday. … Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones returned on Friday after missing six games with a hip flexor injury. … Boston hopes to get its top scorer, Marc Savard, back by the weekend. He's been out with a broken bone in his back. … Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire, out since taking a shot in the head during warmups on March 16, could be back on Thursday. The Blue Jackets also hope defenseman Ron Hainsey (head injury) and forward Fredrik Modin (concussion) will be back before the end of the season.

Still out -- Edmonton goaltender Mathieu Garon still can't play due to a sprained ankle that keeps him from getting into the butterfly position without pain. … Pittsburgh forward Adam Hall is skating again, though there's no word about when he'll return to the lineup. He underwent hernia surgery in mid-January. … Carolina center Matt Cullen is working out, but it's still not known if he'll be sufficiently recovered from post-concussion syndrome to dress for the playoffs. … Nashville center David Legwand, out since early March with a bone bruise on his foot, could start skating this week. He won't be back for the regular season, but might be able to play if the Predators make the playoffs. … Minnesota plans to offer a new contract to defenseman Kurtis Foster, who broke his leg on March 19. It's not known if Foster will be able to play next season. … Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom, out since March 5 with a groin injury, had a cortisone shot but still has yet to play. The Wings hope he'll be back this week. … Atlanta defenseman Ken Klee sat out his sixth-straight game on Monday; he's been sidelined with a groin injury.

The week ahead -- The regular season ends Sunday, with the playoffs beginning next Wednesday. But teams begin ending their seasons as early as Thursday. There's only one more game that's not played between divisional rivals.

Games to watch:

Boston at New Jersey (April 2) -- The Bruins come to the Prudential Center desperate for points in the last inter-divisional game of the season.

Vancouver at Edmonton (April 3) -- The Oilers become the first team to complete their season when they visit the Canucks, who have to win to stay in the Western Conference playoff race.

New York Islanders at New York Rangers (April 4) -- The Islanders end their season with the second half of a home-and-home series with their biggest rivals, who are battling for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

Toronto at Montreal (April 5) -- The Canadiens have already won the Northeast Division title, but need the points as they battle with Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago at Detroit (April 6) -- The Red Wings and Blackhawks face off in NBC's Game of the Week with the Wings already assured of the Presidents' Trophy for finishing first in the regular-season standings.
Tough week ahead:

Boston Bruins -- The Bruins end their season with three games in four nights, finishing with a Saturday night home game against Buffalo.

Dallas Stars -- The Stars play three games in less than 72 hours, ending with a Sunday afternoon home game against the San Jose Sharks, the NHL's hottest team.

New York Rangers -- Like the Stars, the Rangers play Thursday, Friday and Sunday afternoon, finishing off with a visit to New Jersey -- where they will try to sweep the eight-game season series.

Easy week ahead:

Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers complete their regular season on Thursday night in Vancouver hoping that they'll get to play some more hockey in the playoffs.

Atlanta Thrashers -- A Saturday night home game against Tampa Bay is all that's left of the Thrashers' disappointing season.

Colorado Avalanche -- The Avs have to sit and watch all the other contenders in the West pile up points until they host Minnesota on Sunday.

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