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Thornton scores three points in Sharks' slump-busting win over Colorado

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Although Joe Thornton usually does his finest work helping others, the Sharks superstar threw himself quite an anniversary party Friday night.

Thornton had two goals and an assist in a dominant two-way performance exactly two years after his arrival from Boston, and San Jose snapped a three-game winless streak with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Thornton scored two power-play goals in the first 25 minutes and bounced a pass off Mike Grier's skate for another score. The 2005-06 MVP also made the Sharks' most important play in a scoreless third period, short-circuiting a Colorado power play in the final 5 minutes by drawing a tripping penalty from Brett Clark.

It's nothing the Sharks haven't seen before, but Thornton's brilliance always reminds coach Ron Wilson to be thankful for the Bruins' decision to get rid of their captain on Nov. 30, 2005.

"Joe played unbelievable," Wilson said. "He was a force out there. He's physical, making plays. He made a decision he's going to shoot more, that he's going to score and not just look to pass. That will open up some of his playmaking abilities, because now they have to worry about him shooting."

The anniversary wasn't forgotten by Thornton, who got sent away in a four-player deal that's already confirmed as one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history. While Marco Sturm is the only player left in Boston from the deal, Thornton is the Sharks' 28-year-old cornerstone, capable of winning games nearly by himself with such an effort.

"This is home for me," Thornton said. "This is where I want to be for the rest of my career, so it's been a good two years, and many more to come."

Thornton might be the NHL's best passer, but he's a notoriously reluctant shooter at times. With 11 goals through 24 games this season, he's well ahead of his previous career pace of 0.31 goals per game.

"If you want to score, you've got to shoot," Thornton said with a shrug.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 18 shots in his 25th consecutive start for the Sharks, who finished up a tedious four-game homestand with their first victory since Nov. 15. The ironman goalie was chased by the Avalanche in a 6-2 loss last month, just the second time all season Nabokov didn't finish a game.

Milan Hejduk and Andrew Brunette scored and Peter Budaj made 26 saves in the Avalanche's fifth loss in seven games. Colorado has won just three road games all season, fewest in the Western Conference.

"Joe had a big night, and we've seen him have some real strong games against us in the past," coach Joel Quenneville said of Thornton, who has 26 points in 19 career games against Colorado. "We got a couple of timely power-play goals, and we played hard, but we played catch-up all night."

Defenceman Scott Hannan was booed regularly in his first trip back to San Jose since leaving the Sharks to sign a four-year, US$18.5-million deal with the Avalanche. Hannan, who got credit for the second assist on Hejduk's goal, entered the game with no goals, four assists and a team-worst minus-14 rating.

Thornton got a first-period goal for the second straight game, directing a pass from Milan Michalek underneath Budaj on a power play less than two minutes in. Thornton scored again early in the second, whipping another shot under Budaj on another pass from Michalek for his second multi-goal game of the season.

"I should have stopped that second goal," Budaj said. "Joe made a great play. He's playing great right now, and he made us pay. He had a hand in all three goals. You want to excel against great players like him, but he beat us tonight."

Colorado closed the gap with Hejduk's short-handed goal late in the second. Grier got his third goal of the season 97 seconds later when Thornton's impressive cross-ice pass ricocheted off Grier's right skate and into the net, but Brunette got credit for a power-play goal 89 seconds later on a shot that banked in off Sharks defenceman Kyle McLaren.

Notes: The teams meet again Monday night in Denver. ... Colorado RW Marek Svatos missed his first game of the season with a groin injury, while captain Joe Sakic played through his own groin pull. ... Rivet checked C Jaroslav Hlinka onto the San Jose bench in the second period, a first for the veteran defenceman. "It's like the home run, you know," Rivet said.



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