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5th seed locked after Duck lunch
Cheechoo records 5th hat-trick of the season
4/15/06 - by Mike Lee

The Sharks had a chance to lock up the 5th seed in the Western Conference on Saturday afternoon, but they were facing the team directly behind them in the standings in the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The game may have been decided in the first 21 seconds of the game when Joe Thornton scored his 29th goal of the season. It wasn't the knockout blow that decided the 6-3 Sharks win, but it set the tone for a wild afternoon at HP Pavilion.

After Thornton's shot across the bow, San Jose would tack on three more goals before the Ducks knew what had hit them. Jonathan Cheechoo would record his fifth hat-trick of the year in the rout, vaulting him into the NHL goal scoring lead with 56. Thornton would add two assists to his goal to take a three point lead in the NHL point scoring chase. Cheechoo and Thornton both lead New York Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr in their respective scoring races.

"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."

After Anaheim iced the opening faceoff, San Jose converted on the ensuing drop when Nils Ekman setup Thornton with a pass in front of Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Cheechoo would convert on a power play midway through the opening period, after Ekman again setup the goal with a pass. Only this time, the Sharks moved the puck with surgical precision, catching Gigure flat footed as he tried to adjust to the back and forth passes across the slot.

"It's great, but we're looking toward the postseason now," Thornton said. "I think we'll be a tough matchup for teams."

The Sharks turned a potentially disastrous situation into gold four minutes later. With Steve Bernier already in the box for hooking, Cheechoo was called for the same infraction, giving Anaheim a 5-on-3 advantage for 30 seconds. The trio of Mark Smith, Kyle McLaren and Scott Hannan kept the puck out of their own net, and Smith intercepted a Ducks pass just as Bernier was stepping back on to the ice.

Rather than icing the puck, Smith whipped a pass to Bernier at center ice. The Sharks winger grabbed the puck, then raced in on Giguere uncontested and snapped home his 14th goal of the season.

The 2nd period proved to be slightly better for the Ducks, who were outscored 2-1. Cheechoo kickd things off a power play goal 49 seconds into the period. Like so many times this season, Thornton assisted on the play by drawing attention away from his linemates. After a Thornton shot bounced off Giguere, the puck rattled around in the crease before perching itself on the left post. Cheechoo hacked at it twice, before punching it into the Duck's goal.

Ryan Getzlaf would finally get Anaheim on the scoreboard, when he fired a shot from the point past Vesa Toskala through traffic. It was the only power play the Ducks would convert on even though they had seven opportunities.

Ekman would score his 21st of the season with just under three minutes to play in the period to help San Jose reclaim a four-goal lead before the 2nd intermission.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle tried to light a fire under his team by replacing Giguere and replacing him with Ilya Bryzgalov the start the 3rd period. Anaheim mounted a comeback and pulled the game to within a two-goal margin after Joffrey Lupul and Andy McDonald scored before the ten minute mark of the period. The Sharks buckled down and turned aside a power play chance for the Ducks when Cheechoo drew his third penalty of the game at 11:57.

"We were standing around a little too much," said Carlyle. "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."

With the 5th seed on the line for both teams, Carlyle pulled Bryzgalov for the extra attacker with a minute remaining in the game, but Cheechoo would cap things with an empty-net shot from his own zone. The puck sailed the length of the ice, before coming to rest in the back of the vacated Anaheim net.

Hats rained from the sky as the stands erupted with approval after Cheechoo secured things with 1.5 seconds remaining on the clock. Officials declared the game over after arena officials tried in vain to clear the ice of the baseball caps that kept appearing even after the Ducks skated off the ice.

"We're a pretty confident bunch right now," said Cheechoo. "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."



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Scoring
1 2 3 T
ANA 0 1 2 3
SJ 3 2 1 6
1st period - 1, San Jose, J.Thornton 29 (Ekman, Cheechoo), 0:21. 2, San Jose, Cheechoo 54 (Ekman, J.Thornton), 11:03, (pp). 3, San Jose, Bernier 14 (Smith), 15:02, (sh).
2nd period - 4, San Jose, Cheechoo 55 (J.Thornton, Ekman), 0:49, (pp). 5, Anaheim, Getzlaf 14 (S.Niedermayer, McDonald), 10:12, (pp). 6, San Jose, Ekman 21 (Cheechoo, Preissing), 17:14, (pp).
3rd period - 7, Anaheim, Lupul 28 (Friesen, Getzlaf), 7:45. 8, Anaheim, McDonald 33 (Kunitz, Beauchemin), 8:42. 9, San Jose, Cheechoo 56, 19:58, (en).
Penalties
1st period - Salei, ANA (hooking), 4:59; Gorges, SJS (hooking), 8:32; DiPenta, ANA (hooking), 10:56; Bernier, SJS (hooking), 12:54; Cheechoo, SJS (hooking), 14:23; Lupul, ANA (holding), 15:43; Cheechoo, SJS (tripping), 16:30; Friesen, ANA (cross-checking), 19:56.
2nd period - Ehrhoff, SJS (holding the stick), 2:55; Lupul, ANA (cross-checking), 3:27; Carle, SJS (hooking), 9:43; Lupul, ANA (slashing), 13:24; Getzlaf, ANA (hooking), 16:59.
3rd period - Cheechoo, SJS (tripping), 11:57.
Goaltending
  Shots Saves
ANA - Giguere 18 13
ANA - Bryzgalov 3 3
ANA - empty net 1 0
SJ - Toskala 34 31
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
ANA 10 10 14 34
SJ 10 8 4 22
Power Play Conversion
ANA 1 of 7
SJ 3 of 7
3 Stars of the Game
Jonathan Cheechoo
Nils Ekman
Joe Thornton
Attendence
17,496
Officials
Referees: Dean Warren, Brad Watson. Linesmen: Brian Mach, Jay Sharrers.

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