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Sharks Gaining In Playoff Race And Individual Races

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
With Thursday’s 5-3 victory, the Sharks tied a franchise record for their longest winning streak, and also set the longest winning streak for this season, at 7-0. However, it was their improvement in numerous races that made the most news.

First and foremost, the Sharks took advantage of Anaheim’s loss and jumped into sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference standings. Not bad for a team that stood in 12th place back in November.

“Two months ago, nobody would have thought we would be here,” said Kyle McLaren.

San Jose will try to protect their one-point lead on Anaheim and wrap up the fifth seed with a head-to-head battle on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at HP Pavilion (FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX,

“It will be a hard fought battle, but we’ll be ready to play,” said Joe Thornton.

“It will be a playoff atmosphere,” said Ron Wilson.

Many feel that a playoff advantage would go to whoever earns the fifth seed as they would be facing Nashville minus Tomas Vokoun, however, the Sharks are much more concerned with how they are playing than who they are playing. Plus, reaching the fifth seed means that with the additional acquired points, there is always the potential of upsets that could provide home ice in later rounds.

“The top seeds don’t always work out and you could have home ice in round two or three,” said Thornton. “We want to finish as high as we can.”

“I’ve seen things in past years,” said Wilson. “If the top teams lose, you could have home ice. Maybe you won’t have home ice (at all in the West), but you could face an Eastern team in the finals and get home ice.”

San Jose grabbed the victory despite playing their fourth game in five nights.

“Obviously, we could have had a huge let down, but we didn’t,” said Joe Thornton. “We got some timely goals and

San Jose also saw progress on two individual races. With his goals in the second and third periods, Jonathan Cheechoo extended his own franchise record to 53 goals. He is just one goal behind league leader Jaromir Jagr and both high-scoring wingers have two regular season contests remaining. Not to mention the fact that with his three-point night (2-1=3), Cheechoo passed Patrick Marleau for a new franchise record of 88 points in a single season.

Cheechoo has now scored 46 goals since Joe Thornton was acquired and Thornton has assisted on 36 of Cheechoo’s 46 goals tallies since the trade.

On Cheechoo’s second tally, it looked as though Cheechoo would get the primary assist on a Thornton goal, but Thornton had other plans.

“My guy was right in front of me, so it was smart to give it to Joe,” said Cheechoo. “I just went to the net and he saw me.”

Cheechoo in enjoying the goals because they are making a difference.

“The goals mean nothing if you don’t win,” said Cheechoo. “I’m happy doing it. When people pay more attention to me, Joe finds other people.”

Cheechoo’s response on the tongue-in-check question of whether the Thornton acquisition will work out.

“I think it might,” laughed the Moose Factory native.

With his three assists against Vancouver, Joe Thornton made a dramatic jump into a tie with Jaromir Jagr for most points in the NHL, with 122. Thornton has posted at least one point in 45 out of his 56 contests with the Sharks, including registering 27 multi-point games.

It was mentioned to Thornton that he might have a better chance at the league’s Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player if he and Jagr were in different media markets and the New York press was behind Thornton.

“I like dealing with you guys better,” said Thornton. “I like it out here.”

Rookie blueliner Matt Carle has made the transition from college hockey to the NHL quite smoothly. Not that there haven’t been, or will be, some bumps in the road, but the Hobey Baker winner was able to put another goal on the board Thursday night.

“It’s been a fun ride so far,” said Carle. “A lot of the penalties I’ve gotten are not penalties in college, so that is an adjustment. I’m learning each game.”

Like the rest of the Sharks, Carle has learned on important rule when he is on the ice with Thornton.

“I saw Joe (on the goal) and they collapsed on him,” said Carle. “I knew he would find me, it was just a matter of getting my shot up.”

Besides the helpful assist, Carle said there was another likely reason he scored.

“My parents were watching their first live NHL game here,” said Carle. “I normally fair well when they are watching.”

Carle also set up the Sharks first goal, but passing the puck was not his original plan.

“I was trying to shoot it, but it was a great play by Ek,” said Carle.

On the play, Ekman deflected the shot past Alex Auld.

No matter what his intentions, Carle has made some impressions.

“Matt Carle continues to prove the type of player he is,” said Wilson. “He is raising a lot of eyebrows. He is a perfect compliment for Joe and his shot (on the goal) was like it came out of a cannon.”

Evgeni Nabokov returned to the nets after an extended set of games and looked to be in strong form, stopping the Canucks at some critical moments.

“It was nice to see Nabby back on the ice and doing well,” said Patrick Marleau.

With the 1:30 p.m. start on Saturday on FSN Bay Area, the Sharks were given Friday off after winning four times in five nights.

“I think they’d rather play more games than go through my practices,” said Ron Wilson.

Even those players who haven’t been in the lineup get the day off on Friday.

“There is nothing worse that getting whacked in the head with the fact that you’re practicing and your buddies are out golfing,” said Wilson.

On game days Wilson has tried to rest his troops, but found that most won’t take it.

“All our pregame skates since the Olympics have been optional. Most show up and is pisses me off because then I feel like I’ve got to go out there,” laughed Wilson.

Nils Ekman extended his goal streak to three games.

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