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Sharks rally for 4-3 victory over league-leading Ducks

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- By the final minutes of Anaheim's latest
thrilling trip to San Jose, the difference between the Sharks and
the Ducks clearly was smaller than the width of Scott Niedermayer's
shin guard.

And that's exactly where Joe Thornton put the puck that decided
the second chapter in what seems certain to be a dynamite rivalry
this season

Thornton's shot deflected off Niedermayer's leg and into
Anaheim's net with 2:13 to play, and the Sharks rallied for a 4-3
victory over the NHL-leading Ducks on Saturday night.

Jonathan Cheechoo scored the tying goal with 7:14 left for the
Sharks, who capped this Pacific Division meeting between two of the
league's top three teams with a third-period surge that snapped
Anaheim's seven-game road winning streak.

Thornton realized he got a bit of luck on his decisive goal, but
the reigning league MVP thought his club earned the break.

"All 20 guys played great," Thornton said. "It was such a big
game, and even the fans were a part of it. For Game 34 (of the
season), it was incredible. Both teams were up for it. It's going
to be a big game whenever we meet each other."

The clubs have been lukewarm rivals since entering the NHL two
years apart in the early 1990s, but they've never been as good at
the same time as they are this season. Anaheim has the NHL's best
record at 25-4-6, while the Buffalo Sabres -- who have 50 points --
are the only other club with more points than the Sharks' 48.

"We knew these are going to be tough games, and it was an
intense game out there," Niedermayer said. "That's just a good
hockey game. We expected it."

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry scored early goals for the Ducks,
who finished a five-game road trip with just their second
regulation loss away from Anaheim all season.

After Dustin Penner and Cheechoo traded goals 31 seconds apart
in the third, Jean-Sebastien Giguere had no chance when Thornton
aggressively charged the net and bounced a power-play shot off the
leg of Niedermayer while the Anaheim captain checked Cheechoo.

"We had lots of bounces go our way before this game, so this is
the way it goes sometimes," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.
"I'm still real proud of our work ethic."

Mark Smith and captain Patrick Marleau scored 2:49 apart in the
second period to erase a 2-0 deficit for the Sharks, who avenged a
5-0 thrashing in Anaheim in the clubs' first meeting last month.
Evgeni Nabokov made 32 saves in his fifth victory in six starts.

Giguere made 25 saves for the Ducks, but the Sharks recovered
from a lackluster 4-2 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night with
one of their most complete efforts of the season. The Ducks were
exhausted from their five-game road trip, and the Sharks knew this
game meant a little more than others on the schedule.

"It was one of our better all-around games of the year,"
defenseman Kyle McLaren said. "We know they're a good team, and we
don't feel like we have to prove to them that we are."

San Jose (24-10-0) matched its best start in franchise history
with the win. If Anaheim had won, it would have had 58 points --
more after 35 games than any team in NHL history except the 1929-30
Boston Bruins (61) and the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (58).

Both Anaheim and San Jose would love to be the first California
club to capture the Stanley Cup -- and this rivalry finally might
get heated with the addition of Chris Pronger. The former MVP
easily is the most-booed visiting player in San Jose history from
his years with St. Louis and Edmonton, where he led the Sharks'
ouster from the second round of last season's playoffs.

Getzlaf scored a power-play goal in the first period, and Perry
got the Shark Tank grumbling when his innocuous second-period shot
somehow slipped between the post and Nabokov, who hadn't allowed
more than one goal in any of his previous five starts.

But Marleau scored from the slot a few minutes later, and Smith
returned from a seven-game absence with an ankle injury to score a
power-play goal on Thornton's rebound. Smith's goal was his first
in 21 games since Oct. 9.

The Sharks said Mark Bell's fight with Shane O'Brien sparked
them right before Marleau's goal -- and the rivalry got even more
heated when Teemu Selanne and Thornton exchanged shoves and gloved
punches in front of the San Jose net late in the second period,
leading to roughing penalties for both normally well-mannered
stars.

Penner scored a power-play goal with 7:45 to play on a sharp
pass by Perry -- but Cheechoo tied it 31 seconds later. Last
season's top NHL goal-scorer got his 11th of this season on Matt
Carle's rebound, tenaciously keeping his feet while Sean O'Donnell
checked him.

Game notes
Cheechoo had three of his franchise-record five hat tricks
against the Ducks last season. ... Thornton and Anaheim's Andy
McDonald both extended points streaks to six games.