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Sharks clinch top spot in NHL, hold off Red Wings in 6-5 thriller

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Milan Michalek scored the tiebreaking goal on a breakaway with 9:42 to play, and the San Jose Sharks stayed on top of the Western Conference with a dynamic 6-5 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

Captain Patrick Marleau added another breakaway goal for the Sharks with 6:36 left, and Ryane Clowe contributed a career-high four assists to San Jose's second win in three meetings this season with Detroit, the defending Stanley Cup champions and the presumptive favourite in the West.

San Jose moved back atop the overall NHL standings with 71 points - ahead of Boston - after this meeting of the conference's top two teams, who were separated by just one point entering the night.

And the matchup was every bit as good as the teams' lofty records and burgeoning rivalry portended, with more lead changes than an average NBA game while both clubs traded clutch goals and big hits with equal vigor.

Brian Rafalski scored with 1:56 left for Detroit, but Evgeni Nabokov made the last of his 29 saves to clinch San Jose's 21st victory in 24 home games.

Dan Boyle, Joe Pavelski, Christian Ehrhoff and Jonathan Cheechoo also scored goals for the Sharks, whose 3-2 loss to Calgary on Thursday night ended their streak of 31 straight regular-season home games with at least one point, stretching back to last Feb. 14.

Valtteri Filppula, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg also scored for the Red Wings, who had earned at least one point in 10 straight games to pull within one point of San Jose. Detroit held a 4-3 lead late in the second period, but San Jose tied it on Cheechoo's power-play goal before taking charge in the third.

San Jose also seemed to gain strength from a major scrum at the second period's final buzzer in which Sharks all-star Joe Thornton demanded to fight Franzen after a messy collision. Franzen didn't return for the third period because of a lower-body injury, and the Sharks had a renewed vigor that resulted in two mid-period goals.

Michalek put the Sharks ahead when Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart surrendered the puck at mid-ice and left no help for Chris Osgood, who made 35 saves for the Wings. Marleau sneaked behind Detroit's defence three minutes later, accepting Clowe's outstanding pass and beating Osgood to the stick side for his 24th goal.

But Rafalski skated off the bench and straight into Zetterberg's pass to pull the Wings within one goal. Detroit failed to tie it on several chances in the final seconds, sending the Sharks into an unusually joyous celebration for mid-January.

The Sharks are off to the best start in club history largely by mimicking the Red Wings, particularly the champs' aggressive, active offence. San Jose showed off that commitment in the clubs' first meeting on Oct. 30, a 4-2 victory for the Sharks that led Detroit coach Mike Babcock to say his team got "Winged" - but the Red Wings came back with a 6-0 victory over San Jose in Detroit last month.

The Sharks faced Detroit this time without defencemen Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich, both out with injuries until after next weekend's all-star break. Blake, the 39-year-old veteran who has revitalized his career, was hit in the face with a deflection off his own stick against Calgary, but the injury isn't as serious as the club initially feared.

Pavelski scored midway through the first period on an otherworldly pass from Michalek, who dangled in the slot before flipping a no-look backhand past Stuart and two other Red Wings onto Pavelski's tape on the far side of the net.

Hossa tied it with his 22nd goal during a power play early in the second period. The Red Wings later killed an 89-second 5-on-3 disadvantage, but Ehrhoff scored with three seconds left in the second penalty to tie it again.

Zetterberg put Detroit back in front again with his 17th goal, capitalizing on a faceoff - but Cheechoo tied it again with 1:05 left in the second, converting a rebound during another power play.

Notes: Sharks coach Todd McLellan was Babcock's assistant for the previous three years, and the coaches will be back together next weekend at the all-star game - though McLellan will be the nominal boss, thanks to the Sharks' slightly better record. ... The clubs' final regular-season meeting is Feb. 25 in Detroit. ... Red Wings D Chris Chelios sat out again after playing Thursday night in Los Angeles. Chelios, who turns 47 on Jan. 25, has played in just six games since returning from injured reserve in mid-December. ... Cheechoo's goal was his first since Dec. 29, and just the third since Oct. 18 for the former Richard Trophy winner. ... Ehrhoff's goal was his first since Oct. 18.


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