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Win vaults Sharks to 5th seed
Vancouver eliminated from playoff hunt
4/13/06 - by Mike Lee

When the 2005-06 regular season schedule was released last summer, the Sharks were none to happy with the nine day stretch that served as the tail end of their season. From April 5th thru the 13th, they would face one of the toughest challenges in franchise history by having to face three sets of back-to-back games in succession. San Jose wrapped up that stretch of schedule on Thursday night with a 5-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, and capturing two points in every one of those games.

The Sharks have won seven straight, and vaulted themselves into the 5th seed in the Western Conference. Since March 9th, the Sharks have gone 15-3-2, capturing 32 of 40 points in the standings.

Vancouver came to San Jose looking to keep their playoff aspirations alive, but much like the night before, the Canucks couldn't find a way to stay out of the penalty box. Vancouver also jumped out to an early lead, only to blow that lead in the 3rd period for the second consecutive evening.

"They were tight, and squeezing the sticks as they were, we were able to take advantage of it," Sharks head coach Ron Wilson said. "When you get on a roll like this, you go storming into the playoffs. ... That team we played tonight is totally drained because they're surrounded by a negative atmosphere, and it's sliding all the way down the (roster)."

Jonathan Cheechoo kept pace in the goal scoring race by nothing a pair of tallies on top of an assist on Nils Ekman's 20th goal of the season. San Jose had to come back from deficits three times, finally breaking free in the 3rd.

After Ed Jovanovski staked the Canucks to a 1-0 lead, Ekman was credited with the equalizer after the puck bounced off his skate and into the Vancouver goal. A lengthy video review showed Ekman clearly making a kicking motion with his skate, but it appeared that it was initiated after the puck had redirected into the goal.

The Canucks took a 2-1 lead on Brendan Morrison's 18th of the season, coming on one of four power play chances. The Sharks would capitalize on nine power play chances, including a Sean Brown hooking penalty which would lead to Chechoo's first of goal of the evening.

"It's been a playoff atmosphere for us for a while, so I think we'll be ready," Cheechoo said. "We wanted to get into the show."

The Sharks leading goal scorer followed up on a Tom Preissing shot that bounced off the end boards and landed just outside the left post. Cheechoo beat a Canucks defender to the puck, stabbing at it with his stick and chipping it over goaltender Alex Auld's shoulder.

Todd Bertuzzi put the Canucks back on top with under three minutes to play in the middle frame with his 24th goal of the year.

The Sharks turned up the heat in the 3rd period, and were rewarded with three goals to cap the game's scoring. Ville Nieminen kicked things off with his 8th goal of the season at 4:35. Joe Thornton would setup the game winning goal just under seven minutes later on a play that was setup by Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

With Mathius Ohlund it the penalty box, Nabokov grabbed a dump-in attempt by Vancouver, then fired the puck up the right wing to Thornton at the Canucks blueline. Thornton gained the zone along the right win boards, but was forced to cut back toward the slot, before sending a pass to Matt Carle on the opposite wing. The 2006 Hobey Baker Award winner took Thornton's pass and snapped a shot past Auld from 25 feet out.

The Canucks had eight minutes to save their season by scoring what would have been the tying goal, but they couldn't generate any scoring chances. Nabokov stood tall in the period, repelling all 11 shots he faced, and a steady helping of forechecking kept the Canucks from establishing any serious attack in the period.

Thornton and Cheechoo hooked up for good measure, bagging an empty-netter with 17 seconds remaining in regulation. Thornton had an opportunity to score the goal, but he dished the puck to his linemate who trails Jaromir Jagr by a single goal in the hunt for the Rocket Richard Trophy.

"When we got that third goal, I thought it might just be our night," Vancouver head coach Marc Crawford said. "But when they got their third goal, it seemed to give them a lot of life. It got the building (excited)."

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1 2 3 T
VAN 1 2 0 3
SJ 1 1 3 5
1st period - 1, Vancouver, Jovanovski 8 (Bertuzzi), 4:42. 2, San Jose, Ekman 20 (Carle, Cheechoo), 9:56, (pp).
2nd period - 3, Vancouver, Morrison 18 (Bertuzzi, Naslund), 4:57, (pp). 4, San Jose, Cheechoo 52 (Preissing, Thornton), 10:32, (pp). 5, Vancouver, Bertuzzi 24 (Jovanovski, Naslund), 17:48, (pp).
3rd period - 6, San Jose, Nieminen 8 (Goc, McLaren), 4:35. 7, San Jose, Carle 3 (Thornton, Nabokov), 11:24, (pp). 8, San Jose, Cheechoo 53 (Thornton), 19:43, (en).
1st period - Brown, VAN (hooking), 6:00; Sedin, VAN (high-sticking), 6:45; Allen, VAN (delay of game), 9:14; Naslund, VAN (hooking), 14:36; Allen, VAN (roughing), 18:22; Rissmiller, SJS (roughing), 18:22; Carney, VAN (tripping), 19:48.
2nd period - Cheechoo, SJS (hooking), 3:20; Marleau, SJS (high-sticking), 5:43; Brown, VAN (hooking), 9:48; Morrison, VAN (hooking), 11:03; Ekman, SJS (hooking), 16:49; Carney, VAN (interference), 18:21.
3rd period - Carle, SJS (delay of game), 8:30; Ohlund, VAN (holding), 9:35.
  Shots Saves
VAN - Auld 27 23
VAN - empty net10
SJ - Nabokov 20 17
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
VAN 6 3 11 20
SJ 15 4 9 28
Power Play Conversion
VAN 2 of 4
VAN 3 of 9
3 Stars of the Game
Joe Thornton
Jonathan Cheechoo
Matt Carle
Referees: Paul Devorski, Marc Joannette. Linesmen: Brian Mach, Jay Sharrers.

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