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Rally ruins Atlanta's day
San Jose Sharks’ Ryane Clowe, foreground left, scores past Atlanta Thrashers’ Tobias Enstrom, and goalie Kari Lehtonen in the third period Saturday in San Jose, Calif. - photo by Jeff Chiu

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jeremy Roenick picked up his 700th career assist in his return from a 10-week injury absence, and Ryane Clowe broke a scoreless tie 30 seconds into the third period of the San Jose Sharks’ 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday.

Evgeni Nabokov made 22 saves for the Sharks, who set a franchise record with their NHL-best 26th home win already this season. Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton scored power-play goals in the third as the Sharks rallied to win their third straight, staying ahead of Detroit atop the Western Conference standings.

Bryan Little scored during a 5-on-3 advantage for the Thrashers, who lost in regulation for the first time on their four-game road trip.
Little scored at every stop on Atlanta’s road swing, but the Thrashers still haven’t won at the Shark Tank in the franchise’s six visits. Kari Lehtonen stopped 28 shots for the Thrashers, who dropped to 1-8-2 against the Sharks in their first stop in Northern California since Dec. 6, 2005.

Before the game, San Jose activated Roenick and defenseman Brad Lukowich from its injured list. Lukowich still was a last-minute scratch after taking pregame warmups, but Roenick returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 11, joining Claude Lemieux and enforcer Jody Shelley on a fourth line that might prove to be one of the NHL’s most entertaining groups.

Roenick had missed 28 games with torn cartilage in his shoulder, while Lukowich has been out for 18 games following sports hernia surgery. Center Tomas Plihal also returned to the Sharks’ lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury.

San Jose hadn’t faced Atlanta since March 22, 2007, and the unfamiliarity led to two dull, scoreless periods in a rare Shark Tank matinee.
Clowe then forced a turnover in the Atlanta zone on the opening shift of the third period. Lehtonen stopped shots by Joe Pavelski and Milan Michalek before Clowe slapped home the rebound for his 21st goal, ending a seven-game goalless drought that matched the longest of the season for San Jose’s imposing power forward.

Cheechoo then scored in the final seconds of a power play, slipping a shot between Lehtonen’s pads after a cross-ice pass from Roenick.

Little kept it close with the 25th goal of his breakout sophomore season while Thornton and Mike Grier were in the Sharks’ penalty box, but Thornton tapped home his 15th goal of the season while alone at the net with 6:42 to play.

Hulking defenseman Boris Valabik returned to the Thrashers’ lineup after sitting out five games. The 6-foot-7 Slovakian rookie committed two minor penalties and lost an entertaining fight to Shelley.

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