Cheechoo nets shootout winner for Sharks

SAN JOSE, California (AP) — Jonathan Cheechoo is too young for
true nostalgia. Still, the formerly fearsome San Jose forward’s
last several games have felt an awful lot like the good old days
of 2006.

He’s back on a line with Joe Thornton, the passing machine who
fed pucks into his wheelhouse during his Richard Trophy-winning
campaign. And although they haven’t yet connected for a score,
Cheechoo is still getting key goals during a playoff chase as
the Sharks stumble toward the top of the NHL standings.

Cheechoo scored the winning shootout goal with a deft backhand,
and Evgeni Nabokov made 24 saves in the Sharks’ 3-2 victory over
the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.

Rob Blake and Milan Michalek scored early goals for the Sharks,
who moved one point behind NHL-leading Detroit with just their
fourth victory in 10 games. After 45 scoreless minutes, San Jose
prevailed with its second home shootout winner in six days from
Cheechoo, who hasn’t scored a regulation goal in 13 games.

Cheechoo feels his fortunes have mirrored the Sharks’ struggles
over the past few weeks: plenty of hard work counterbalanced by
too many mistakes, leaving too little to show for it. He also
got hit with an iffy interference penalty that led to Phoenix’s
decisive power-play goal in a loss to the Coyotes two days
earlier, leaving him hustling for redemption throughout a strong
game against the Predators.

“I’ve got some chances, but I’ve been getting chances for a
while now, so I’ve got to start putting them in,” said Cheechoo,
who read rookie goalie Pekka Rinne’s movements and picked a spot
for his high backhand. “I’m happy with the way we played. We’ve
just got to keep moving forward, keep building on this.”

Joe Pavelski, whose giveaway resulted in Nashville’s second
goal, also beat Rinne before Cheechoo, who got the winner
against Los Angeles in the seventh round Saturday.

“Cheech had a spark in him that we’ve seen throughout the year,
but not on a consistent basis,” coach Todd McLellan said. “It
makes me excited to come to the rink tomorrow and put him back
on that line (with Thornton and Patrick Marleau), because he’s
earned it.”

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Joel Ward and Vernon Fiddler scored first-period goals for the
Predators, who finished a key four-game West Coast trip with six
points, solidifying their position in the playoff chase. Rinne
made 36 saves in his second start in two days for Nashville,
which lost in overtime at Anaheim one night earlier.

All four regulation goals were scored in the first period, and
the goalies traded big stops in the final two frames, including
Nabokov’s excellent save on David Legwand’s breakaway in the
last few minutes of regulation.

“Both teams played with pretty good intensity,” Nashville coach
Barry Trotz said. “We had a great chance with two minutes to go.
Legwand had the breakaway and got the puck off the rebound, and
shot it out the back door, sort of. If we’d scored there, you
never know.”

San Jose clinched the Pacific Division title and a playoff spot
during the past few days, but the Sharks’ three weeks of
lackluster play were thoroughly discussed during a 90-minute
organizational meeting Wednesday. Players were reluctant to
discuss the meeting’s specifics, but the Sharks clearly left
with a nervous edge.

Nashville went up 2-1 late in the first period when Pavelski’s
egregious turnover at the Nashville blue line gave a breakaway
to Fiddler, who scored his 10th goal of the season. Michalek
tied it with 3.1 seconds left in the period, banging home his
20th goal on a rebound after a sustained rally in front of
Rinne’s net.

The Predators kept playing well in their fifth straight game
without captain Jason Arnott, who has an upper-body injury.

Before the game, the Sharks learned they’ll be without left wing
Ryane Clowe for at least a week after the bruising power forward
underwent minor lower-body surgery. With 52 points in 69 games,
Clowe is San Jose’s fourth-leading scorer and the most important
player yet to be affected by the injury crush that’s hitting the