San Jose 6, Ducks 3
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The San Jose Sharks' remarkable rise through the Western Conference standings is complete. They're hoping to carry that momentum - and a couple of scoring trophies as well - on to the playoffs.
Jonathan Cheechoo became the NHL's leading goal-scorer with his fifth hat trick, and Joe Thornton took the league scoring lead with three points as the Sharks clinched fifth place in the conference with their eighth straight win, 6-3 over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Saturday.
Nils Ekman had a goal and three assists alongside Thornton and Cheechoo on the Sharks' devastating top line, which scored four goals while San Jose took a 5-1 lead after two periods of a fifth-place showdown.
The Ducks lost their third straight despite an impressive third-period effort.
San Jose, a conference finalist in 2004, will open the playoffs on the road next week against the fourth-place Nashville Predators, who have never won a playoff series.
Cheechoo scored two early power-play goals before getting an empty-netter from his own blue line with 1.7 seconds to play, giving him 56 goals in his quest for his first Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer.
Thornton had a goal just 21 seconds into the game and later added two assists, giving him 19 points during San Jose's winning streak.
Thornton, who has 125 points, and Cheechoo both passed Jaromir Jagr, who didn't score in the New York Rangers' 4-1 loss to Philadelphia. Jagr has 54 goals and 122 points.
The Sharks' last regular-season game is Monday night at the Shark Tank against Los Angeles, while Jagr and the Rangers finish the season Tuesday at home against Ottawa.
Vesa Toskala made 31 saves and Steve Bernier scored a short-handed goal for the Sharks, who rose five places in the conference standings in the previous 10 days during the longest winning streak in franchise history. They have 99 points, matching the second-most in Sharks history, after struggling to get into the conference's top eight for most of the season.
Joffrey Lupul and Andy McDonald got third-period goals and Ryan Getzlaf also scored for the Ducks, who dropped to sixth place in the conference after San Jose beat Vancouver on Thursday night. Anaheim finishes its season Monday against Calgary, its possible first-round opponent.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped just 13 of 18 shots before Ilya Bryzgalov replaced him for the third period.
Thornton wasted no time claiming the overall scoring lead from Jagr: After Anaheim won the opening faceoff but iced the puck, he slipped in front of the net and banged home a swift pass from Ekman for his 29th goal.
Just 6 seconds into Joe DiPenta's hooking penalty midway through the period, Cheechoo caught Giguere far from his net, beating the goalie with a one-timer on another pass from Ekman. Cheechoo has 12 more goals than the Sharks' previous franchise best of 44, set by Owen Nolan in 2000.
Cheechoo added his 55th goal during another power play in the opening minute of the second period, tucking a loose rebound around the post - and giving yet another assist to Thornton, who took the shot.
Anaheim LW Todd Fedoruk slipped and crashed hard into the end boards late in the first period, staying motionless on the ice for several moments. He developed back spasms and didn't return. ... Anaheim D Francois Beauchemin took a run at Cheechoo in the third period, sending him into the boards with a questionable check to the head. Beauchemin wasn't penalized. ... Ekman's four-point game was his fourth of the season, matching his career high.