ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ A year ago, the San Jose Sharks had no chance of making the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now they have an outside shot to finish first in the Western Conference.
Alexander Korolyuk broke open a tie game with a pair of third-period goals, and Mark Smith snapped a 35-game scoring drought as the Sharks rallied to beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 4-2 Friday night.
Brad Stuart had a goal and an assist, Nils Ekman had three assists, and Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves for the Sharks, who extended their lead in the Pacific Division to five points over Dallas. They are one point behind second-place Colorado in the Western Conference and five behind Detroit with eight games remaining.
``Our chances of catching Detroit are pretty slim _ but we have a game left with them. And if we can get some help from some other teams here in Southern California, you never know,'' coach Ron Wilson said.
``As crazy as it is, we could be playing Detroit for first place. But you don't want to far ahead of yourselves. This was a huge win for us. We've given ourselves a little breathing room.''
Stanislav Chistov and Sergei Fedorov scored 59 seconds apart for the Ducks, who have only one win in seven games. Anaheim defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh played for the first time since Dec. 19 after missing 42 games because of an injured left shoulder.
``You can never have enough good players _ especially on the blue line, because it's the most important position on any team. And to lose a guy of his ability, there's no question he was missed,'' Anaheim captain Steve Rucchin said.
``It would have been different with him in the lineup because he adds so much offensively as well as defensively. He's a gifted player, a smooth skater, he sees the ice well and he's an intelligent player. So when you combine those things, the game's going to be a little easier for you.''
The Ducks and Sharks ended the first period tied 2-2, after combining for 15 goals in the previous five meetings this season. Martin Gerber allowed two goals on 12 shots and was replaced by Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 11:34 of the period after giving up Smith's 10th career goal and first since last April 2.
``They're a great team and they can really skate,'' Anaheim coach Mike Babcock said. ``They had some power plays in the second half of the game that gave them some momentum. They're finding ways to win on a regular basis, and it's no accident.''
Giguere, who was 3-8 against the Sharks, stopped San Jose's next 20 shots before Korolyuk beat him with a screened shot from the slot with 16:08 to play while Ruslan Salei was serving a high-sticking penalty.
``Any time you give a team chances to be on a power play in the third period, sooner or later they're going to capitalize,'' Ozolinsh said. ``We gave them momentum with those penalties after we took charge of the game and killing those penalties gets players off their rhythm and messes up the matchups.''
About seven minutes after Korolyuk's first goal, Fedorov carried the puck into the Sharks' zone at full speed and knocked Nabokov's mask off his head with a long slap shot. The strap on the mask snapped and Nabokov was dazed for a couple of minutes, but he finished the game.
``Those fiberglass masks are made so well now, I think they can stop a bullet,'' Wilson said.
Korolyuk made it 4-2 with his career-high 17th goal, as his intended pass for Ekman deflected in off the skate of Anaheim's Rob Niedermayer with 3:51 left.
``Alex is playing with incredible confidence right now in every situation,'' Wilson said. ``He's a good penalty killer and he's probably our most reliable forward right now in our own end, and he's willing to pay the price.''
Chistov, playing his third game since getting recalled from the minors, opened the scoring on a power play at 2:43 of the first period with his second goal of the season _ and first since Dec. 22 against the Sharks.
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