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Thornton's goal helps Sharks close in on West title with 4-2 win over Canucks

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The biggest indication of how chippy the third period got between San Jose and Vancouver came when the referee screamed at Ryane Clowe to sit down in the Sharks penalty box.

When Clowe yelled back there was no space left because five of his teammates were also in the box, he was told: "Sit on the guy's lap."

The Sharks survived the penalty-filled third period to beat the Canucks 4-2 on Thursday night and move a step closer to clinching the top spot in the Western Conference.

San Jose had a 4-0 lead after two periods and held on for the key victory after a third period that featured 76 penalty minutes, including 56 in a 38-second span.

That led to a comical situation where the Sharks had six players in a penalty box so crowded that Devin Setoguchi and Scott Nichol needed to stand. A seventh player, Niclas Wallin, was in the locker-room after getting a fighting major, a rouging penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.

"We perhaps lost our composure a little bit," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "What I liked about it was there was emotion. It's probably good for both teams heading into the playoffs. Both teams stood their ground. Instead of cruising through the night, we were still involved in the game."

Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Manny Malhotra and Logan Couture scored for the Sharks, who lead Chicago by two points heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

But the Blackhawks have two games remaining and the tiebreaker edge over the Sharks with more wins. With just one game left, San Jose will still need help to be assured of the No. 1 seed when the playoffs start next week.

"We still have something to play for," Pavelski said. "This is what you play all year for. You want to step up and play and be ready. It's an exciting time of year for us."

While the game was of big importance to the Sharks, the Northwest Division champion Canucks are locked in as the third seed for the playoffs and gave goalie Roberto Luongo and defenceman Sami Salo the night off. The only remaining drama for Vancouver is whether Henrik Sedin will be the first Canucks player to win the NHL scoring title.

Sedin had an assist, giving him 108 points on the season - two more than Washington's Alex Ovechkin. But Ovechkin has two games remaining, while Sedin finishes the season at home against Calgary on Saturday night.

The Sharks committed three minor penalties in a 57-second span early in the third period, starting the rush to the penalty box. Evgeni Nabokov responded with his best stretch of his 30-save night, helping kill off two full minutes of a two-man advantage.

He robbed Daniel Sedin with a pad save and made a glove save on Kevin Bieksa's shot from the point. Then with 57 seconds left in the final power play, Alex Burrows was called for interference on Thornton, setting off another stretch of penalties.

The Canucks finally got on the board with goals from Pavel Demitra and Andrew Alberts that cut San Jose's lead to 4-2 but couldn't get any closer.

"There was a lot of chirping back and forth, but that's fine," Henrik Sedin said. "The refs are doing everything they can. It's up to me and the team in here to take care of things. I have nothing to complain about."

The Sharks broke the game open with a three-goal second period against Andrew Raycroft. The Canucks were hurt by losing Shane O'Brien to an undisclosed injury in the first period.

Thornton had the prettiest of the goals off a perfect setup from Dany Heatley, a change from the usual script for two of San Jose's top players. Heatley fed Thornton from the boards and Thornton converted on an easy one-timer for his 20th goal of the season and first since March 23.

"The cards weren't completely aligned for us tonight," Raycroft said. "We're a little short on the back end and we were trying not to get hurt. We could have mailed it in but the guys kept battling."

NOTES: One of Vancouver's best scoring chances came on a delayed penalty against the Canucks. A backpass by the Sharks trickled down the ice as Nabokov skated to the bench. Nabokov did not play the puck in case it would have been a penalty for too many men on the ice and the puck barely wet wide. ... Vancouver has lost six straight games in San Jose. ... The Sharks suited up seven defencemen, using Jason Demers as a forward at times.

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