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GAME: Minnesota Wild (25-24-4) at San Jose Sharks (24-19-7).

TIME: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

San Jose right wing Jonathan Cheechoo is enjoying being Joe Thornton's linemate.

Cheechoo looks to build on his third hat trick of the season when the Sharks host the Minnesota Wild.

Cheechoo scored three goals in San Jose's 6-4 win over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Wednesday. He has 15 goals and 10 assists in his last 16 for the Sharks, who ended a three-game losing streak.

"It's a pretty big win for us," Cheechoo said. "Every win now is big for us. We're trying to climb back into the playoff race, so these games against teams that are above us are huge for us."

Cheechoo has 24 goals in 26 games since Thornton, who was acquired from Boston in a Nov. 30 trade, was inserted into the lineup on Dec. 2. All six of Cheechoo's multi-goal games this season have come since then, including a two-goal effort in a 5-0 win over Buffalo in Thornton's first game with the Bruins.

Thornton, who had three assists Wednesday, has 244 points since the start of the 2002-03 season, more than any player in the league. He has assisted on 15 of Cheechoo's goals.

"My linemates have been finding me and putting me in the right spots, and the puck's been going in for me," Cheechoo said. "There were a lot of penalties tonight, so there were a lot of scoring chances for special teams and both teams took advantage of it."

Cheechoo, who also recorded hat tricks Dec. 20 against Anaheim and Jan. 5 against Columbus, scored on the power play in the second period. He has 15 power-play goals, three shy of Owen Nolan's 1999-00 team record.

Tom Preissing scored the go-ahead goal, and Mark Smith and Nils Ekman also scored Wednesday for San Jose, which got three power-play goals.

The Wild have dropped three straight, including Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Brian Rolston and Marian Gaborik each scored for Minnesota, which had won five straight before its current slide.

Each of the Wild's last three losses have been by one goal.

"We have to play near-perfect hockey and everybody has to be going on all cylinders to win hockey games," Rolston said. "And we weren't going."

STANDINGS: Wild - 54 points, 5th place, 13 PB, Northwest Division. Sharks - 55 points, 5th place, 19 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Rolston, 23 goals, 33 assists and 56 points; Derek Boogaard, 108 PIM. Sharks - Cheechoo, 31 goals; Thornton, 53 assists and 70 points; Mark Smith, 73 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wild - Power play: 17.1 percent (51 for 298), 20th in NHL. Penalty killing: 88.5 percent (262 for 296), 1st. Sharks - Power play: 17.5 percent (54 for 309), 15th. Penalty killing: 79.4 percent (201 for 253), 25th.

GOALTENDERS: Wild - Manny Fernandez (20-8-3, 1 SO, 2.12 GAA); Dwayne Roloson (5-16-1, 1, 3.00). Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (14-13-6, 1, 2.97); Vesa Toskala (5-5-1, 3.39).


LAST MEETING: Nov. 5; Wild, 3-1. At San Jose, Rolston scored three goals for his second career hat trick and first since Nov. 16, 1996.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 9-13-3 on the road; Sharks - 14-5-4 at home.

Associated Press

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