CHICAGO -- Joe Thornton says he is chasing playoff position, not a second straight NHL scoring title.
"Right now it's all team oriented," Thornton said. "We want to do well in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup, so (individual) points aren't an issue."
With 99 points, Thornton is closing in on his third 100-plus point season.
"He was a horse tonight," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "He was dominating every shift."
None more so than one early in the first period, when Thornton picked up the puck behind the Blackhawks' net and proceeded to weave around and through Chicago's defense until he found himself alone at the point.
With the Blackhawks out of position, Thornton fed a wide-open Scott Hannan at the opposite point, who quickly gave the puck to Milan Michalek to the side of the net. He buried the shot past Blackhawks goaltender Patrick Lalime for a 1-0 lead.
That point temporarily tied Thornton with Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier for second place in the NHL scoring race.
Chicago's Patrick Sharp scored his 17th goal to tie the score with just under five minutes left in the first period. Martin Havlat fed Rene Bourque, who took a wrist shot that was stopped by San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but Sharp pounced on the rebound in the slot.
It was one of the lone bright spots for the Blackhawks, who were eliminated from playoff contention after losing at Columbus on Tuesday night.
"Playing defense against Joe Thornton is the toughest job I've had in the NHL so far," Sharp said.
Michalek scored the go-ahead goal on a power play at 10:03 of the second period, while Thornton assisted on both of Jonathan Cheechoo's goals (26, 27), as well as on Michalek's third-period score.
"With Cheechoo and Michalek on the wing (with Thornton), they play so well together," Sharp said. "They're so dangerous every time they're out there."
Cheechoo matched Thornton's three points, with two goals and an assist, including a power-play score that gave San Jose a 3-1 lead just over 5 minutes into the third period.
"We just worked really hard as a line and we know where each other is going to be," Thornton said. "Obviously we're playing with a lot of confidence right now. Milan is playing great and Cheechoo is putting it in the back of the net."
Thornton's confidence is contagious.
"You know, with the guys we have on the power play, it's not just only about getting a good bounce," Cheechoo said.
If the Thornton, Cheechoo, Michalek line keeps clicking, then San Jose can begin to gaze past fifth place and look to corral Anaheim (98 points) for first place in the Pacific Division.
Winners of five of their last six games, the Sharks know they have the defense to compete for a division, if not Stanley Cup title, with Nabokov (seven shutouts) between the pipes. Nabokov stopped 28 shots, highlighted by a diving snare of a shot by Havlat with the score tied 1-1 in the second period.
"Joe's line played really well for us," Nabokov said. "We'll take the two points right now, that's the most important part."
|Jonathan Cheechoo (14) scores two goals to improve his season total to 27 tallies. (Getty Images)|
|San Jose (45-25-4) «||1||1||2||4|
|07:12||Jonathan Cheechoo (26), Wrist Shot - Assists: Scott Hannan, Joe Thornton|
|15:30||Patrick Sharp (17), Slap Shot - Assists: Martin Havlat, Rene Bourque|
|10:03||Power Play - Milan Michalek (21), Slap Shot - Assists: Matt Carle, Craig Rivet|
|05:43||Power Play - Jonathan Cheechoo (27), Slap Shot - Assists: Matt Carle, Joe Thornton|
|12:48||Milan Michalek (22), Wrist Shot - Assists: Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo|
|01:25||Williams: Hooking - 2 min.|
|07:11||Keith: High sticking - 2 min.|
|09:15||Bourque: Hooking - 2 min.|
|11:22||McLaren: High sticking - 4 min.|
|05:01||Richmond: Hooking - 2 min.|
|14:22||Aucoin: Hooking - 2 min.|
|16:08||Marleau: Hooking - 2 min.|
|SHOTS ON GOAL|
|Attendance - 10374|
|Referees - Don Koharski, Rob Martell|
|Linesmen - David Brisebois, Mike Cvik|