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|SJS||3||2||1||(0 - 0)||6|
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - When Jonathan Cheechoo scored his third goal all the way from San Jose's end of the ice in the closing seconds, the resulting avalanche of hats put a fitting cap on two incredible weeks for the Sharks.
They're headed to the playoffs with the Western Conference's No. 5 seed after eight consecutive victories - and there's a good chance they'll take two scoring trophies along with them.
Cheechoo became the NHL's leading goal-scorer with his fifth hat trick, and Joe Thornton took the league scoring lead with three points in the Sharks' 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 in the fifth-place clincher. The Sharks were in 10th place just 12 days earlier, but they show no signs of slowing down during the longest winning streak in franchise history.
"We're a pretty confident bunch right now," said Cheechoo, who had eight family members in the stands - including his grandmother on her first trip to San Jose. "We're in a good position that we earned. A lot of hard work is paying off, because it feels like we've been playing for our lives ever since the Olympics."
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 that 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 top goal-scorer.
Thornton had a goal just 21 seconds into the game and later added two assists, giving him 19 points during Team Teal's winning streak.
"It's great, but we're looking toward the postseason now," Thornton said. "I think we'll be a tough matchup for teams."
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.
San Jose's 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.
"The right guys are scoring for us," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "I'm cheering for Joe to win the scoring title and for Cheech to win the goals title, the Richard Trophy. Provided it doesn't take away from what we're trying to do to win, I'll do everything in my power to put them in the position to succeed."
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. 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, which lost its third straight to close a five-game road trip, finishes its season Monday against Calgary, its possible first-round opponent.
"San Jose is playing well. That line is cooking," said Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer, who sat out the third period to rest. "We need to keep up the attack. If we're spectators for just a few seconds, it makes all the difference."
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 six seconds into a power play midway through the period, Cheechoo caught Giguere far from his net, beating the goalie with a one-timer on another pass from Ekman. Cheechoo added his 55th goal during another power play in the opening minute of the second period, tucking a loose rebound around the post.
"We were standing around a little too much," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "We got ourselves into some problems. We were standing around watching Cheechoo and Thornton move the puck, and that's a disaster when you do that."
Notes: Anaheim LW Todd Fedoruk slipped and crashed hard into the end boards along with San Jose's Ville Nieminen late in the first period. Fedoruk developed back spasms and didn't return, but doesn't think the injury is serious. ... 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.
|Joe Thornton (29) Slapshot - ASST: Nisse Ekman (34), Jonathan Cheechoo (36)|
1 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Jonathan Cheechoo (54) Wrist shot - ASST: Nisse Ekman (35), Joe Thornton (95)|
2 - 0 SJS
|SHG - Steve Bernier (14) Snap shot - ASST: Mark Smith (15)|
3 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Jonathan Cheechoo (55) Slapshot - ASST: Joe Thornton (96), Nisse Ekman (36)|
4 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Ryan Getzlaf (14) Slapshot - ASST: Scott Niedermayer (50), Andy McDonald (50)|
4 - 1 SJS
|PPG - Nisse Ekman (21) Snap shot - ASST: Jonathan Cheechoo (37), Tom Preissing (32)|
5 - 1 SJS
|Joffrey Lupul (28) Wrist shot - ASST: Jeff Friesen (7), Ryan Getzlaf (22)|
5 - 2 SJS
|Andy McDonald (33) Wrist shot - ASST: Chris Kunitz (20), Francois Beauchemin (28)|
5 - 3 SJS
|EN - Jonathan Cheechoo (56) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
6 - 3 SJS
|Ruslan Salei Hooking against Ville Nieminen|
|Josh Gorges Hooking against Andy McDonald|
|Joe Dipenta Hooking against Scott Thornton|
|Steve Bernier Hooking against Andy McDonald|
|Jonathan Cheechoo Hooking against Andy McDonald|
|Joffrey Lupul Holding against Josh Gorges|
|Jonathan Cheechoo Tripping against Francois Beauchemin|
|Jeff Friesen Cross checking against Nisse Ekman|
|Christian Ehrhoff Holding the stick against Corey Perry|
|Joffrey Lupul Cross checking against Kyle McLaren|
|Matthew Carle Hooking against Jeff Friesen|
|Joffrey Lupul Slashing against Nisse Ekman|
|Ryan Getzlaf Hooking|
|Jonathan Cheechoo Tripping against Teemu Selanne|
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