San Jose Sharks centre Patrick Marleau (12) scores a goal past Vancouver Canucks goalie Curtis Sanford during the first period. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Tony Avelar)
SAN JOSE, Calif. - If anybody still doubts the San Jose Sharks after their painfully slow start at home, coach Ron Wilson wishes to refer them to the standings.
"We're second in the Western Conference, and that's all that really matters," Wilson said Thursday night. "We are where we are where we are. We keep playing like this going forward, and we don't have to worry about what our record was at home in the first two months of the regular season."
Joe Thornton had a goal and an assist, Evgeni Nabokov made 15 saves and the Sharks beat Vancouver 5-2 for their sixth victory in seven games, using their speed on two early goals and capitalizing on the Canucks' mistakes for the final two goals.
Milan Michalek, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski scored for the Sharks, who won consecutive home games for just the second time all season to stay in a first-place tie with Dallas in the Pacific Division, passing Vancouver for second place in the conference standings.
Despite a strong road record, San Jose won just five of its first 13 games at home, among the league's worst marks. Those woes appear to be fading, with the Sharks getting at least one point from six of their last eight games at the Shark Tank.
"It feels good we got some wins at home, and it's going to continue like that," Michalek said. "We were talking about it before the game, (how) we had to come out hard on them because they played the night before."
Henrik Sedin and Trevor Linden scored third-period goals for the road-weary Canucks to trim San Jose's three-goal lead. Vancouver, which beat Anaheim on Wednesday night, then made two glaring turnovers that turned into goals for Thornton and Steve Bernier, sealing Nabokov's league-leading 17th victory.
"Our of five goals, four of them were mistakes, and you can't play like that," said Vancouver defenceman Willie Mitchell, who got dusted by Michalek on San Jose's first goal. "Against a team that good, you can't make more than one mistake."
Nabokov has started each of the Sharks' 30 games this season, and the veteran has rarely been better. He picked up his league-leading 17th victory and barely missed his 39th career shutout while keeping his goals-against average at 2.00, the second-best mark in the NHL behind Detroit's Chris Osgood.
Curtis Sanford allowed three goals on 12 shots while filling in again for Roberto Luongo, who has missed four of Vancouver's last five games with bruised ribs. Drew MacIntyre made his NHL debut in relief of Sanford after the Sharks went up 3-0 in the second period.
Vancouver, playing without Brendan Morrison for the second straight night, lost for the third time in four games overall. The Canucks laboured at times during their sixth game in nine days.
"We weren't sharp at all," Vancouver captain Markus Naslund said. "We didn't play like we had anything in it. All along, we've said we weren't going to use any excuses, about injuries or scheduling."
Michalek showed why he's one of the NHL's most highly regarded young forwards with a stunning move to open the scoring midway through the first period. He collected Thornton's pass on a power-play rush and left Mitchell flat-footed, turning the corner for his 10th goal.
Marleau then sped past another defender for another breakaway goal, just his second in 10 games.
Pavelski padded the Sharks' lead in the second period with a deceptive shot from the slot, handcuffing Sanford. San Jose also kept up its stellar defensive play, allowing just eight shots in the first 39 minutes.
Sedin ended Nabokov's shutout bid with 14:51 to play, tapping home a rebound of Lukas Krajicek's shot that bounced right to his stick. Linden got credit for his third goal of the season midway through the period when Nabokov stopped his shot, but then kicked it into the net behind him.
But Thornton kept the Sharks comfortably ahead 41 seconds later when Devin Setoguchi stole a Vancouver pass and fed the 2005-06 MVP for a breakaway slap shot with 9:07 to play. Bernier padded the lead 1 minute later when Krajicek coughed up the puck right next to the net.