It is a race the likes Sharks fans have never seen and on Saturday afternoon, they saw their favorite players take the lead going down the stretch. Joe Thornton entered the game in a battle with Jaromir Jagr for the Art Ross Trophy as well as for the Hart Trophy. When the game began, Thornton was tied with Jagr for the NHL points lead. When the night was over, San Jose’s big center held a three-point lead.
In the goal-scoring race, Jonathan Cheechoo entered the Anaheim contest one goal behind Thornton. The Moose Factory native capped his day with his third hat trick of the season against he Ducks and held a two-goal lead on Jagr. Thornton is only the 11th player in NHL history to reach the 90 assist plateau. Plus, his 27th multi-point game made the Sharks 26-1-1 when he post more than on point.
Oh, and the Sharks 6-3 victory solidified them as the Western Conference’s 5th seed and they will play Nashville.
“We like the way we’re playing and we’re gaining confidence with each victory,” said Thornton. “We’re peaking at the right time. We talked earlier about getting as high as we can and now it should be a great series with Nashville.”
"The right guys are scoring for us too," said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. "I’m cheering for Joe to win the scoring title and for Cheech to win the goals title. Provided it doesn’t take away from us trying to win, I’ll do everything in my power to try to put them in the position to succeed."
The Sharks end their season Monday night against Los Angeles while New York and Jagr have a Tuesday game against Ottawa.
As Thornton has closed the gap and passed Jagr, every point he has accumulated has been vital to the Sharks playoff chase. He showed that again Saturday when he scored the game’s opening goal just 21 seconds into the game.
With the Hart Trophy candidate, the Sharks have improved their winning percentage more than any club in the league since December 1 and that is more on his mind that the scoring race.
“I don’t think about it,” said Thornton. “Just winning is fun.”
Cheechoo has an opinion on who should win the Hart Trophy.
“Just look at what we’ve done since he got here,” said Cheechoo. “A lot of times I’m just tapping the pucks in because of the plays he makes. Joe is such a great passer. He plays well on defense and has the best plus-minus on the team.”
All Cheechoo did was score the game-winning goal, his 20th since the start of the 2003-04 season, and that leads all NHL players.
“He’s worked so hard all year and it’s nice to watch him,” said Thornton.
Thornton may be rooting as hard as anyone for Cheechoo to win the Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer – well almost everyone. Cheechoo has a special section of visitors in town for what turned out to be a big night.
“My family is in and it’s my grandma’s first trip here,” said Cheechoo.
While Cheechoo would vote for Thornton for the Hart Trophy he respects Jagr’s scoring ability.
“He’s always been a great player and I’m lucky to move ahead of him in goals,” said Cheechoo.
Cheechoo isn’t much on saving too many souvenirs.
“I got my 50th for my dad,” said Cheechoo. “They give all the hats to charity.”
And that’s been a lot of hats with five hat tricks.
GET YOUR PLAYOFF GEAR
When you are in line Tuesday to get your playoff tickets, the Sharks will have a booth set up oustide the ticket window for fans looking to purchase their playoff gear early.
- Joe Thornton registered 3 points (1-2=3) giving him the lead in the NHL scoring race (29-96=125). Thornton has scored 19 points in his last 8 games (4-15=19). He has registered 28 multi-point games this season.
- Jonathan Cheechoo registered his 5th hat trick of the year, 3 of which have come against Anaheim. Cheechoo is now leading the NHL in goal scoring (56). Cheechoo’s 5 points tonight is a career high (3-2=5).
- Cheechoo has 9 goals in 8 games and Joe Thornton has 9 assists in 7 games against the Ducks this season.
-Cheechoo became the first player since Mario Lemieux to record five hat trick in one season. Lemieux notched six in the 1995-96 season.
- Cheechoo’s five points were a career high and a Sharks season-high.
- The Sharks set a franchise record with their eighth consecutive win (8-0-0)
- They also gained at least one point in nine consecutive games (8-0-1), a season-high
- Joe Thornton has tied his own franchise record by recording six consecutive multi-point games (2-15=17)
- By winning his last seven consecutive starts, Vesa Toskala tied a franchise record matching the win streaks of Arturs Irbe (3/24-4/5/94) and Evgeni Nabokov (1/30-2/28/02)
- Toskala has gone eight consecutive starts without losing a game in regulation. That streak is the sixth longest in franchise history.