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Thornton's game-winner lifts Sharks over Ducks

by John Kreiser /

Joe Thornton can shoot the puck too.

One night after Thornton set up four goals in San Jose's victory over Philadelphia, the NHL assist leader scored the go-ahead goal at 8:49 of the third period to give the San Jose Sharks a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Dany Heatley, who turned three of Thornton's passes into a hat trick on Friday, assumed the role of playmaker to set up Thornton's game-winner. He grabbed the puck just outside the Anaheim blue line and raced into the zone before putting a perfect pass onto Thornton's stick. The big center -- whose usual inclination is to pass first -- wasted no time snapping a shot from near the left faceoff dot into the top right corner to snap a 2-2 tie.

Thornton finished the night with six shots on goal, the most he's had in a game this season.

"For Joe to get six shots on goal -- he can go two weeks and not get six shots on goal," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "For him to have six -- he understands, or I hope he understands, the reward that's there. Sometimes a shot on goal is as good as a pass to an open player."

The Sharks were content to play their top unit of Thornton, Heatley and Patrick Marleau against the Ducks' big three of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Perry and Ryan each had an assist -- but no goals.

"We went top line versus top line, and ours got the last goal," defenseman Dan Boyle said.

Thornton's goal left goaltender Jonas Hiller frustrated.

"I saw it, but it was a bang-bang play," said Hiller, who felt the shot ticked off his stick before going in. "I just missed it by half an inch. I have to watch it on TV again. It was a quick play. I thought I played it quite well and was in pretty good position. That kind of goal hurts right now. It’s those small mistakes that are costing us games."

After Thornton's goal, the Sharks played the kind of shutdown defense that carried them to the Presidents' Trophy last season. Evgeni Nabokov made 28 saves as San Jose increased its League-leading point total to 36 on a night when McLellan admitted that his team wasn't at its best following Friday's win.

"Energy levels weren't as high as we'd like," he said. "But sometimes that works in your favor. You simplify your game -- you get it out, you get it in. Any time of the year, points are important, but to have it against your No. 1 rival is extra special.

"It was a hard, simple game," McLellan added. "We played in our end a lot, but I don't think we allowed them on the inside a lot -- and when we did, Nabby made some saves.

Anaheim remained last in the Western Conference with 17 points after another frustrating loss.

"They locked it down and played pretty well at the end of the game," Getzlaf said. "We had our chances. We played really well tonight. For the most part, we were right in there in that hockey game. We were playing a pretty good team, so it’s those little mistakes that end up costing you in the end."

After a scoreless first period, Nabokov was the culprit on the game's first goal. Defenseman James Wisniewski teed up an unscreened 55-foot slap shot that went under the goaltender's right pad for a power-play goal 1:20 into the second period.

Ryane Clowe tied it at 8:08 with a long wrist shot from beyond the top of the left circle that sailed past a half-dozen bodies before hitting the net behind Hiller, who never saw it.

Heatley put the Sharks ahead at 10:54, banging in Thornton's rebound for a power-play goal. He increased his League-leading goal total to 18, while Thornton's 25 assists also leads the NHL.

But Anaheim tied it with just 14 seconds left in the period when Ryan Whitney one-timed a shot into the top corner for a 5-on-3 power-play goal -- the Ducks' fifth extra-man goal in their last two games.

In the end, however, it was just another two points that got away from the Ducks.

"Our battle and compete level were high," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It was a high-paced game with lots of action in it. We can’t be faulted for our effort. It’s our lack of execution in that situation [on the game-winning goal]."

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