Thornton picked off an errant pass and scored midway through the third period, lifting the Sharks to a 2-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
“I’m not sure what happened,” Thornton said. “I wasn’t supposed to be on the ice but there was something going on and I just got out there. Then there was the turnover and I just stepped up and shot.”
Evgeni Nabokov stopped all 24 shots he faced for his third shutout, the 30th of his career, and the Sharks won their season-best fifth straight at home. They have won eight of 10 overall.
“They don’t give up many chances to score, and they have (Martin) Brodeur,” Nabokov said. “They had a couple of strange shots from the blue-line and sometimes those are more dangerous than the open shots from the slot. We did a good job of getting to the rebounds.”
Mike Grier added a short-handed, empty-net goal in the final seconds. The Devils allowed their sixth short-handed goal of the season.
Brodeur was nearly as impenetrable as Nabokov, stopping 25 shots. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Devils from losing their third straight game in regulation for the first time this season. The Devils also have lost four of their last five road games.
Thornton, the league’s reigning MVP, swarmed to a pass that skittered off the stick of New Jersey centre Scott Gomez at the blue line. Thornton skated around two defenders and then fired the puck past Brodeur from the left faceoff circle.
“He’s a great goaltender but you can’t be afraid of him,” Thornton said. “I wanted to get on that side and I got as much wood as I could on it and let it fly. I wasn’t aiming at the general spot, it just happened to go in.”
Thornton scored his seventh goal, and has points in six of his last seven games.
“You can’t turn the puck over to the best player in the league and that’s what I did,” Gomez said. “I have got to make that play.”
Until Thornton took advantage of the miscue, the Devils were content to slow things down on offence, while keeping the Sharks along the boards and trying to knock skaters off the puck at the blue line.
“You have to be very patient and you can’t expose the puck,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “They are too good to try and open things up. We stayed on plan for 60 minutes and stayed as patient as they played.”
San Jose tried to punish the Devils by continually pounding their forwards into the boards. New Jersey, the least penalized team in the NHL, never lost its poise.
“One costly mistake that ended up in the bottom of our net,” Devils coach Claude Julien said. “It bounced off his stick and he made the perfect shot between the poles.”
The teams combined to take just five penalties all night.
The Sharks snapped a four-game losing streak to the Devils, beating them for the first time since Nov. 28, 1999.
Notes: The Devils and Sharks met for the first time in three years. … The Devils complete their West Coast trip in Los Angeles on Monday, meaning they will play all four teams in the span of six days. … Devils RW Cam Janssen returned to New Jersey for an MRI exam after suffering a separated shoulder in Friday night’s loss to Anaheim. … Sharks RW Jonathon Cheechoo missed his fourth game with a left leg injury although he participated briefly in Friday’s practice. … Sharks RW Milan Michalek missed his second game with a left arm injury. … San Jose had a capacity crowd for the eighth time, and four of its last five.