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Cheechoo Has The Natural Hat Trick

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

San Jose returned to Edmonton for the first time since last spring’s playoff exit but, in spite of a natural hat trick by Jonathan Cheechoo, and a second period 4-1 lead, fell to the Oilers 6-4 Thursday night.

Evgeni Nabokov fended the crease for San Jose while Dwayne Roloson, who was celebrating his birthday, filled in for Edmonton.

The Oilers controlled play early as they were feeding off the home crowd and Nabokov was forced to come up with a big stop fast. After making the initial save, Edmonton’s Marty Reasoner swiped at the loose puck that trickled behind the Sharks goaltender. With the help of the Sharks defensemen, Nabokov beat Brad Winchester to the loose rubber in the crease and things remained scoreless.

The Oilers would take a 1-0 first period lead on a fluke tally. With a delayed penalty called, Winchester knocked the puck toward the corner, but it was redirected off Kyle McLaren’s skate and floated across the goal line for the rookies first NHL goal.

San Jose would not sit back as Joe Thornton’s line came out firing on the very next shift. They did not score on the initial effort, but when they took their next turn, the expected happened. From behind the goal line, Thornton found Jonathan Cheechoo in the slot and his quick one-timer beat Roloson upstairs, tying the contest.

Back-to-back Oilers penalties just eight minutes into the game provided one the NHL’s most dangerous power plays with nearly two minutes of five-on-three time. Sharks bench boss Ron Wilson loaded up with his usual five forwards and Cheechoo struck again. This time, as the Oilers held back waiting for Thornton to set the play up, Cheechoo simply unloaded from the point and once again beat Roloson upstairs.

San Jose’s penalty killers were tested late in the first as Team Teal played down a man four-on-three, and had to face a brief five-on-three. Unlike the Oilers, they were successful in their defense of the net and the score remained 2-1 after 20 minutes.

The middle period began with San Jose skating up a man for 1:45, but they could not add to the lead at that point.

Still early in the stanza, the Sharks struck again, and again it was Cheechoo, completing a natural hat trick - three consecutive goals in a contest. This time he took a pass from Mark Smith and, with little room to work with, sent the puck in on the short side.

On a third successful power play, operating a three-on-one rush with Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier, Thornton waited and fed Michalek for the easy one-timer, making it 4-1. It appeared that San Jose had everything going their way.

Edmonton would not go down easy on the night though, as they responded with a Joffrey Lupul tally.

Following a nice hit by Ryane Clowe on Raffi Torres along the boards late in the third, the Oilers took exception and a fight was on. Despite being at the end of his shift, Clowe took the decision in the bout and San Jose would take a 4-2 lead into the final intermission.

Three minutes into the third, San Jose was forced to deal with a two-minute, five-on-three disadvantage and sixty seconds later, penalty killing specialist Curtis Brown took off on a breakaway. He could not convert and Edmonton would make San Jose pay on the other end. Within a span of 14 seconds, Oilers parked in front of Nabokov tipped shots around and above the San Jose netminder to tie the contest with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.

Within another two minutes, Edmonton had the lead and another unusual play factored in. A point shot was blocked by Patrick Rissmiller and sent to the left of Nabokov. The visiting netminder couldn’t locate the puck, but Ryan Smyth did and found the back of the net for a natural hat trick to rival Cheechoo's. Edmonton had their first lead since the first goal of the contest.

San Jose looked to even the contest on a power play with seven minutes left in regulation. They came close with several attempts and a Thornton shot went just outside the post. However, on the final rush, Alex Hemsky was just leaving the box and a centering pass sent him in on a breakaway. Marleau tried to close the gap, but Hemsky fired far side and made the score 6-4.

Ron Wilson pulled his netminder for an extra skater late in the contest, but it would not alter the outcome and San Jose fell from the NHL ranks of undefeated teams.

San Jose will travel tonight following the game to Vancouver for a Friday night contest with the Canucks. The game will carried on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and at 7 p.m.

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