Thornton, Cheechoo clinch NHL scoring titles

Updated: April 19, 2006, 2:33 AM ET
Associated Press

Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo have been teammates for just 58 games with the San Jose Sharks, and their potent partnership already has earned them two NHL trophies.

Jonathan Cheechoo
Cheechoo

Joe Thornton
Thornton

The Sharks' dynamic duo clinched hockey's top two scoring titles Tuesday night when Jaromir Jagr picked up just one assist in the New York Rangers' season-ending 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

Thornton won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's high scorer with 125 points, two more than Jagr. Cheechoo won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer with a franchise-record 56 -- also two more than Jagr, a five-time scoring champ who led both races for much of the season.

The San Jose stars roared from behind to win their first league scoring honors, even after going scoreless in the Sharks' season finale Monday. They're the first teammates to share the league's top two statistical awards since Colorado's Peter Forsberg won the scoring title and Milan Hejduk got the goals trophy in 2003.

"From Day 1, I just played real well with Cheech," said Thornton, who was appropriately at the beach with his girlfriend when his brother, Alan, and Sharks GM Doug Wilson called to congratulate him. "You don't plan for something like this. These two awards are definitely team-oriented, and we're just happy for each other."

Thornton and Cheechoo have clicked almost from the moment the big center joined the club in a one-sided four-player trade with Boston on Nov. 30. Immediately paired on a line, usually with 57-point scorer Nils Ekman, Thornton and Cheechoo quickly established a chemistry that's been mostly indefensible for opponents.

Over and over again, Thornton's superb passing -- he also led the league with 96 assists -- set up Cheechoo's remarkable shot. They got results in the standings as well: The Sharks went 36-15-7 after Thornton's arrival, surging into the playoffs as one of the league's most dangerous matchups. They'll open the postseason in Nashville on Friday night. Game 2 will be Sunday afternoon before the series shifts to San Jose for games April 25 and April 27.

The other Western Conference matchups will be Detroit vs. Edmonton, Dallas vs. Colorado and Calgary vs. Anaheim. In the East, it will be Ottawa vs. Tampa Bay, Carolina vs. Montreal, New Jersey vs. the New York Rangers, and Buffalo vs. Philadelphia.

Thornton, the former No. 1 overall draft pick who's been in the NHL since he was a teenager, bested his previous career high by 24 points. After being a lightning rod for criticism and fan dissatisfaction with the losing Bruins, he scored 92 points in his 58 games with the Sharks.

"I follow hockey a lot," Thornton said. "I know a lot about the history of hockey, and the Art Ross Trophy, there's a lot of big names on there. It's an honor to put my name on it."

Cheechoo has 49 goals for the Sharks since Thornton joined the lineup -- and Thornton assisted on 38 of them. Cheechoo has scored on an amazing 21.2 percent of his shots and picked up the first five hat tricks of his career since Thornton arrived, the most three-goal games in a single season since Mario Lemieux had six in 1995-96.

Cheechoo's 56 goals are the most in the NHL since Pavel Bure scored 59 for Florida in 2001. The Richard Trophy has been awarded only since 1999.

Cheechoo, in just his third full NHL season, scored 28 goals in 2003-04 while the Sharks reached the Western Conference finals. After playing 20 games in the Swedish Elite League during the lockout, he entered this season stronger and tougher.

Thornton also set a league record for the most points by a player who was traded during a season. Mike O'Connell, the Boston general manager who became the first executive in NHL history to trade the eventual league scoring leader during a season, was fired by the Bruins last month.

Five players finished with 50 or more goals, the most in 10 years.

Jagr had 54, rookie Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk each scored 52, and Ottawa's Dany Heatley got his 50th Tuesday night.

Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames had the best goals-against average, 2.07, to win the Jennings Trophy.

Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden's plus-37 was the best plus-minus rating in the league.

Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were two of the highest-scoring rookies in NHL history. Ovechkin's 52 goals put him third on the all-time list for a first-year player. Teemu Selanne scored 76 in 1992-93 for Winnipeg, and Mike Bossy got 53 in 1977-78 for the New York Islanders.

Ovechkin also had 54 assists, and the Russian finished with 106 points -- third best in NHL history for a rookie.

Crosby, 18, is the youngest player to score more than 100 points. He finished with 39 goals and 63 assists for 102 points.

Dion Phaneuf of the Flames scored 20 goals, the most by a rookie defenseman in 17 years.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press