SAN JOSE (AP) — Joe Thornton scored the tiebreaking goal in the second period of his 500th game with San Jose and the Sharks went on to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Thursday night for their third straight win.
Ryane Clowe added a power-play goal, Jason Demers had two assists and Thomas Greiss made 23 saves in his first game since Dec. 3 as the Sharks followed up road wins over nemesis Vancouver and Anaheim with one against the NHL’s worst team.
Vinny Prospal scored and Curtis Sanford made 37 saves for the Blue Jackets, who lost for the 18th time in 20 games all-time in San Jose. One of those wins came last season when Columbus won 3-0 behind a hat trick by Rick Nash, and the other was in 2004 before Thornton joined the Sharks.
Acquired in a trade from Boston on Nov. 30, 2005, Thornton has been the face of the franchise ever since. He has led San Jose to back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals and has the Sharks atop the Pacific Division once again this season.
He delivered the big goal in this game when he broke a 1-all tie early in the second period. Patrick Marleau sent in a quick wrist shot from just inside the blue line and Thornton fought off a check from David Savard to knock the puck out of the air and past Sanford for his eighth goal of the season and just third since Nov. 17.
Greiss, filling in for starter Antti Niemi, helped make sure the lead stood up, making a key skate save against Antoine Vermette early in the third period and a pad save on Jeff Carter in the closing seconds to give San Jose at least one point for the 10th time in the past 11 games. Greiss got his first win since making 36 saves in a 4-1 victory at Colorado on Nov. 20.
The Blue Jackets, playing their first game since New Year’s Eve, showed no signs of early rust from their four days off, getting seven of the first eight shots of the game. They jumped on top just 2:13 in when Mark Letestu fed Prospal with a blind, backhand pass from behind the net for a tap-in goal that was his first since Dec. 6.
The Sharks, playing the back end of a back-to-back, started slowly before gradually taking over the game. They were sluggish for most of a 4-minute power play when Ryan Johansen was sent off for high-sticking Dan Boyle, drawing boos from the sellout crowd. But with 45 seconds left in the man advantage, Clowe knocked a rebound past Sanford for his eighth goal of the season and first on the power play since Oct. 28.
NOTES: Thornton is the 10th player to appear in 500 games with Sharks and joined Marco Sturm as the only players to score a goal in their 500th game with the team. ... Sanford, who last played Dec. 22 because of hip and back injuries, dropped to 0-4 in his career against San Jose. ... The Sharks recalled F Tommy Wingels from Worcester and placed D Colin White on injured reserve. Wingels played in place of Torrey Mitchell, who was a healthy scratch.