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Thornton's four assists help Sharks clinch playoffs

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Joe Thornton assisted on four
goals, including Christian Ehrhoff's winner just 34 seconds into
the overtime, and the San Jose Sharks earned a playoff spot with a
5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night.

Thornton, who also set up Scott Hannan's tying goal with 4:03
left in the third period, went end to end before peeling off in the
corner and spotting Ehrhoff alone in the slot. The Sharks
defenseman snapped a quick shot over the glove of Alex Auld as the
Sharks won their sixth straight, finally ending a long, unlikely
comeback from early season struggles.

The Sharks' turnaround started with Thornton's arrival. San Jose
was 8-12-4 before adding him in a blockbuster trade with the Boston
Bruins on Nov. 30. The Sharks are 34-14-7 since, with Thornton
collecting 86 of his 119 points -- second most in the NHL -- since
arriving in San Jose.

Few were more important than his four assists against the
Canucks. After falling behind 2-0, Thornton set up a pair of goals
with pretty passes, rallying the Sharks before the first period
ended.

First he sprung Grant Stevenson with a pass from behind his own
net to the far blue line and Stevenson converted the breakaway with
a shot over Auld s glove with 2:39 left in the period. Thornton
spotted Nils Ekman out of the corner on a power play 1:37 later and
Ekman, alone in the slot, one-timed it past Auld.

Milan Michalek gave the Sharks the lead 7:52 into the second,
but Daniel Sedin tied it on the power play later in the period and
Bryan Allen gave the Canucks another lead 6:14 into the third.

Then Thornton took over again. His pass from behind the net
found Hannan alone in the slot and the Sharks defenseman buried a
shot over Auld s right shoulder. It was more of the same -- except
this time out of the corner -- on the winner, improving Thornton's
NHL-best assist total to 91.

Despite the loss, Vancouver moved a point behind eighth-place
Edmonton in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western
Conference. Both teams have two games left, including a rematch
between the Canucks and Sharks in San Jose Thursday.

Mattias Ohlund and Markus Naslund also scored power play goals
for Vancouver, and Sedin added a pair of assists for the Canucks,
who have just one win in the last six games.

Vesa Toskala finished with 20 saves for his sixth straight win.

Game notes
The Canucks won their first two games against the
Sharks this season, but both came a week before San Jose made the
trade to add Joe Thornton. ... After visiting San Jose on Thursday,
the Canucks will host Colorado on Saturday to finish their regular
season. ... The Sharks have three games left, all at home against
the Canucks, Anaheim and Los Angeles, and are within striking
distance of the fifth-seeded Mighty Ducks and fourth-place
Nashville. .. Canucks D Eric Weinrich was a healthy scratch after
going pointless with a minus-12 rating since being acquired from
St. Louis at the March 9 trade deadline. D Sean Brown, acquired
from New Jersey the same day, took his place. ... Thornton has more
assists than any Canucks player has points.