Phoenix Coyotes Shane Doan (19), front, walks away as the San Jose Sharks celebrate their first goal scored by San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19), with San Jose Sharks Douglas Murray (3) and San Jose Sharks Brian Campbell (51) in the first period of their NHL Hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, March 30, 2008. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Darryl Bush
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Joe Thornton scored two goals in the first period, and the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes from playoff contention with a 3-1 victory Sunday night.
Curtis Brown also scored and Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves for the Sharks, who have earned a point in every game since Feb. 20 while rolling to the third Pacific Division title in franchise history. They have 36 points in their last 19 games, including three straight wins since an overtime loss at Phoenix on Tuesday.
Thornton is the NHL leader with 65 assists, but the all-star centre has been on a goal-scoring tear lately with eight in the Sharks' last five games. He scored just 14 seconds into San Jose's final meeting of the season with the Coyotes, then added his 28th goal late in the first period.
Captain Shane Doan scored and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 29 shots for the Coyotes, who will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season even though they need just two more points to earn their best record since 2002. Eighth-place Nashville earned one point in an overtime loss to Detroit to move seven points ahead of the Coyotes, who have just three games left.
The Sharks clinched the division title and at least the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs with their victory at Anaheim on Friday night. San Jose's 17th victory in 19 games keeps the Sharks barely in the race for the top spot behind league-leading Detroit, which has a five-point lead with three games left for both clubs.
With 106 points and three games to play, the Sharks easily could surpass the franchise record of 107 points set last year. Three more wins would tie the club record of 51, also set last season.
After Thornton scored on the opening shift, Doan tied it with his 28th goal - his fifth against San Jose this season - when Nabokov got caught out of position. Thornton put the Sharks back ahead late in the period with a long shot that deflected off a defenceman's stick and past Bryzgalov's glove.
Thornton has never scored more than 37 goals in his decade-long career as one of the NHL's top passers, but his 28 goals this year are his highest tally in a half-decade.
Brown scored midway through the third period on a beautiful pass from Campbell, the all-star defenceman who has 16 points in 17 games since arriving in a trade with Buffalo. Nabokov finished strong in his NHL-leading 45th victory, giving him four more wins than second-place Martin Brodeur of New Jersey, which has four games left.
Forward Ryane Clowe returned to the Sharks' lineup for the first time since incurring a right knee injury that required surgery in October. Clowe missed 65 games, but the bruising power forward hopes to be at full strength for the post-season - and he looked good in his first appearance.
Clowe picked up an assist on Thornton's opening goal after starting on a line with Milan Michalek, who had two assists.
Notes: Phoenix needs just two points in its final two games to finish with its best record since the 2001-02 season. ... Doan, who has 77 points, is the only Phoenix player since 2001 to score more than 70. Sharks F Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk were the last Coyotes to do it. ... The Sharks rested several key players against Phoenix, giving the night off to F Jonathan Cheechoo, D Craig Rivet and rookie F Devin Setoguchi to heal minor injuries. F Mike Grier also got the night off to rest, though he's healthy.