SAN JOSE, Calif. - Mike Modano glided toward Evgeni Nabokov with palpable confidence, knowing he had shattered the Shark Tank many times before. The star centre on a Dallas team that loves to play in San Jose was highly unlikely to waste a breakaway chance to end this overtime game.
Instead, Nabokov barely stopped Modano's misfired first shot, and his easy rebound stuff rested calmly on the goal line next to Nabokov's reaching stick and the post. Thanks to Nabokov's final stunning saves, the Sharks' most feared opponent was denied - and a few moments later, Joe Thornton wasn't.
Thornton banked a power-play goal off the Dallas defence with 2:02 left in overtime, and San Jose inched closer to a Pacific Division title with a 3-2 victory Thursday night, snapping a six-game home losing streak against the Stars and clinching home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"We've been playing real good hockey to get us in this position," said Thornton, the NHL assists leader who has seven goals in five games. "We just need to continue it. It's going to be good to have home ice for the first little bit."
Thornton also scored the tying goal early in the third period and Nabokov made 23 saves, including several stunning stops, as the Sharks earned a point in their 17th consecutive game. They're six points ahead of second-place Anaheim with a game in hand on the Ducks, who host the Sharks on Friday night.
San Jose needs three points from its last five games to clinch the third division title in franchise history and a top-two seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Nabokov's improbable stops on Modano's highly probable scoring chances could be seen as even more reason to believe San Jose's fates might be shifting. The Sharks have trailed behind Dallas and Anaheim for most of the season - indeed, for most of the NHL's past three campaigns - but their talented roster shows more tenacity with each win.
"It was a hard game for us, but a good game," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "We got the job done when we needed it against a very desperate, very talented team. Let's face it, until their goalie imploded in the end, I didn't know which way the game was going."
Marty Turco made 24 saves but took a four-minute high-sticking penalty for slashing Joe Pavelski across the face just 75 seconds into overtime, eventually leading to Thornton's score. Captain Patrick Marleau appeared to deflect home Thornton's pass, but several minutes after Marleau took a bow in front of the sellout crowd, the official scorers awarded the goal to Thornton.
"We're all responsible for the things we do, and me in overtime there was nothing short of dumb," Turco said. "I always try to help my guys out (by hassling forecheckers), and in that case, they didn't need any."
Captain Brenden Morrow and Jere Lehtinen scored for the falling Stars, who lost for the eighth time in nine games and finally lost any mathematical chance of winning the division they led just a few weeks ago. Modano had two assists, but was left lamenting the short-handed breakaway that failed.
"I had him, I think, on the original one, but it just rolled off the end of my stick," said Modano, who had four goals in Dallas' first three games in San Jose. "I thought I had him coming back, but it just stuck."
Pavelski scored an early goal for the Sharks, who have won 15 of their past 17 games. They haven't lost in regulation since Feb. 20.
Lehtinen put the Stars ahead 2-1 during a two-man advantage in the second period, but Thornton tied it early in the third when Mike Grier did his best Thornton impression, flipping a cross-ice, no-look backhand pass to the Sharks' leading scorer.
The Sharks played their second straight game without goal-scoring forward Jonathan Cheechoo, who's still recovering from a hit to the head in last Friday's win over Anaheim. Cheechoo isn't expected to miss much more time, but Jeremy Roenick took his place on the Sharks' top line with Thornton and Milan Michalek.
Defenceman Philippe Boucher returned to the Stars' lineup after missing six games with a right shoulder injury.
"We're trying to build on something, and this is a good team we played today," Boucher said. "We were right there. When you're struggling, you've got to push a little harder, and we pushed."
Notes: LW Ryane Clowe, who injured his knee Oct. 27, skated with the Sharks in pre-game warmups only. San Jose still says the bruising power forward won't return to the lineup until next week at the earliest, but hopes he'll be available in the post-season. ... Dallas RW Antti Miettinen and D Nicklas Grossman were healthy scratches. Grossman, who was replaced by Boucher, had missed just two games since early November. Miettinen, currently in a five-game scoring drought, hadn't missed a game since Dec. 7. ... The clubs finish the regular season against each other in Dallas on Apr. 6.
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