San Jose edges Blackhawks

Boston BruinsKyle CalderPatrick MarleauChicago BlackhawksJoe ThorntonNational Hockey League

Joe Thornton, formerly the face of the Boston Bruins, moved west and joined the Sharks in November in what could be considered a deadline deal.

The official trade deadline is March 9, but for teams that want to play in the postseason in the Western Conference, that deadline recently has been around Dec. 1.

Since going to a conference-based playoff format, history suggests if you're not among the top eight teams in the West by Dec. 1, your chances of making the postseason are slim.

When the Sharks and Bruins completed the biggest deal of the season to date, San Jose was tied with the Blackhawks for 12th in the West with an 8-12-4 record.

Even after their 2-1 victory over the Hawks here Wednesday, the Sharks are still just 11th in the West and seven points out of the last playoff spot¬ódespite going 17-9-4 since acquiring Thornton.

San Jose snapped a three-game losing streak with goals by Patrick Marleau and Thornton within 45 seconds late in the first period.

Kyle Calder scored his 13th of the season to give the Hawks a chance, despite being badly outplayed the first 40 minutes. San Jose outshot the Hawks 30-16 through the first 40 minutes.

"Everybody in the West seems to be winning," Thornton said. "We just have to keep winning and hopefully it will all take care of itself."

Because 72 of 82 games are within the conference under the current scheduling format, four or five teams are winning every night. That makes it harder to make up ground.

The eight teams in the playoff picture Dec. 1 are still the same eight teams that would start the playoffs today. The gap between the eighth- and ninth-place team Dec. 1 was one point. Beginning play Wednesday that gap was four points.

The Sharks certainly couldn't ask for any more than they have gotten from Thornton. The center has nine goals and 32 assists in 29 games for them.

"[Thornton] makes the guys he plays with that much better," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "He has the ability to carry the offense and that relaxes guys. They don't feel the pressure to have to produce."

No one has been the beneficiary of Thornton's talents as much as Jonathon Cheechoo.

He has 25 goals since he and Thornton became linemates, 18 on Thornton assists.

"I would say he's one of the best passers in the NHL, if not the best," Cheechoo said. "He opens up a lot of room for you to shoot."

The Sharks are going to need Thornton and Cheechoo to continue to click for the rest of the season if they have any hope of sneaking into the postseason.

rfoltman@tribune.com

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