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Joe Thornton gets three assists as Sharks beat Blues 5-4 in overtime

So he provided it, scoring on a rebound with 2:48 left in overtime of the Sharks' 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. Brown reached around a defenceman and tipped home rookie Matt Carle's shot, triggering a bench-clearing celebration on the boards.

The Sharks' excitement was mixed with a healthy dose of relief: With 81 games left to play, they hope every contest doesn't require this much energy.

"That was one of the longer games I've ever been a part of," Brown said. "I don't think there's anything else they can throw at us this season. That's one of the things, though. You're going to have all kinds of distractions, and you've got to overcome them."

Joe Thornton had three assists in an auspicious start to the season, and the Sharks appeared headed for a regulation victory when newcomer Mark Bell scored on electric passes from Jonathan Cheechoo and Thornton with 5:42 left in the third period.

But Bill Guerin forced overtime with 5.6 seconds left in his St. Louis debut, tipping home Keith Tkachuk's pass after the Blues pulled goaltender Manny Legace for an extra attacker.

There was plenty of non-scoring action in the third period as well. Referee Rob Martell left the game after being hit in the left eye by one of Michalek's shots during a power play in the third period, and the game was significantly delayed moments later when Cheechoo crashed into the boards, putting a perfectly round hole in them.

Milan Michalek scored two goals during 5-on-3 advantages on assists from Thornton, who got an early start on his defence of his MVP award and scoring championship from last season. Carle also scored for the Sharks, and Vesa Toskala recovered from two soft first-period goals to make 31 saves.

"I'm happy for the newer guys who contributed a lot," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "That kind of welcomes them into the Shark family."

Dan Hinote, Jamal Mayers and Lee Stempniak scored for the Blues, who are winless in their last nine openers - the longest streak in the NHL.

But after finishing last overall in the league with just 57 points, St. Louis clearly is markedly improved. Veterans Radek Dvorak, Guerin, Legace and Hinote debuted with St. Louis, while Martin Rucinsky, Jamie Rivers and Doug Weight officially returned to the club.

"We can walk out of here with our heads high," said Legace, who made 29 saves. "We had a couple of breakdowns, but we're right there."

Hinote quieted the sellout Shark Tank crowd just 36 seconds in with a goal on his first shift with the Blues after six seasons in Colorado.

Michalek, the second-line wing who led the NHL with seven pre-season goals, got his first of the regular season on a sharp pass from Thornton early in the second period. Thornton then whipped a pass off Michalek's stationary stick and into the net, putting San Jose ahead 3-2.

"They have a great power play, and Joe is the best player on the planet right now," Guerin said. "He can put on a clinic out there, if you give him a chance."

Stempniak tied it 7 minutes later, deflecting Guerin's shot from the high slot.

The Sharks went back ahead when Cheechoo, who had two assists, adroitly poked the puck away from defenceman Eric Brewer to set up a 3-on-1 break. The Sharks' new top line exchanged criss-cross passes before Bell buried his first goal since arriving in an offseason trade from Chicago.

"That's the wrong line to give it up to," Legace said.

Notes: Blues owner Dave Checketts, general manager Larry Pleau and new team president John Davidson watched the game together in the press box. ... The Blues begin the season with a three-game California road swing before their home opener Oct. 12 against Boston. ... Rookie D Marc-Edouard Vlasic got a high-pressure assignment in his NHL debut, joining the Sharks' 5-on-3 penalty-killing team late in the second period. Vlasic held his own as San Jose killed the Blues' two-man advantage for 107 seconds, eliciting a standing ovation.



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