Sharks Sink Leafs
Before acquiring Thornton on Wednesday, San Jose had managed as many as five goals in a game only four times, and they'd been winless in 10 before big No. 19 pulled on a Sharks jersey.
"We had a slow start in the first but the boys played great in the second and third,'' the big centreman said after upping his season's assists total to 28 - third best in the NHL - in the come-from-behind victory. "It was another good two points for us.
"Playing back-to-back games, to have an effort like this was great.''
Alyn McCauley scored two goals and Scott Hannan, Patrick Marleau and Mark Smith had one each as San Jose won a second game in a row for the first time since Nov. 4.
One of the changes coach Ron Wilson made when Thornton arrived was to shift McCauley from his familiar centre position to a wing. He skated with Marleau and Grant Stevenson against the Leafs, and he scored his fifth and sixth goals of the season.
"It felt good to bang a couple of goals in,'' said McCauley. "I've been working hard but haven't found the back of the net for the most part this year.
"To come back against these guys, it was a lot of fun. I'm more happy about getting two points and trying to catch teams that are in front of us.''
The biggest change in the team since Thornton's arrival has been the overall confidence level, he said.
"We'd talked for the last two weeks about reaching a state of urgency and I think it took the trade to wake guys up,'' he said.
Darcy Tucker, Eric Lindros, Matt Stajan and Jason Allison scored for the Leafs. Ed Belfour, trying for a 448th win to move ahead of the late Terry Sawchuk into second spot on the all-time goaltending wins list, took the loss.
"It's too bad for Eddie,'' said Tucker. "He didn't have much of a chance on a couple of those (goals).''
Belfour was out of position when Hannan beat him with a long shot in the game's fifth minute.
Toronto needed less than two minutes to tie it. A drop pass in the neutral zone by the Sharks' Jonathan Cheechoo was picked off by Alex Steen, who passed the puck to Mats Sundin. Vesa Toskala stopped Sundin's shot, and Tucker rammed in the rebound at 5:51 for his team-high 12th goal.
The point was Sundin's 769th as a Leaf, bumping Borje Salming for third place on the club's all-time list behind Darryl Sittler (916) and Dave Keon (858).
Lindros barged to the crease to convert a cross-crease Steen pass on a power play at 9:26. Lindros hadn't scored in seven games, and had only two goals in his previous 17 games, so finally getting his 11th was a big relief.
The Leafs kept coming, and Stajan easily skated around stick-less defenceman Doug Murray and beat Toskala at 10:44.
Two points for the Leafs seemed certain - until the Sharks showed up for the second period and scored three unanswered goals.
Marleau put in his own rebound from the side of the net on a power play at 5:34, and McCauley darted through centre to the net to slam in a pass from Marleau from behind the net at 8:51.
Smith then put San Jose up 4-3 with a short-handed goal at 11:46. Niko Dimitrakos cut off a Sundin pass along the boards in the Sharks end and fed the pride of Eyebrow, Sask., at centre. Smith had managed only 12 goals in 226 career games, but he capped his breakaway by burying the puck in the bottom corner of the net on Belfour's stick side as if he made a habit of scoring.
The Sharks intensified their checking, and the announced crowd of 19,386 was lulled into silence until a "Go Leafs Go'' chant started up six minutes into the third period.
"Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,'' they cheered a couple of minutes later when Belfour got an arm on a shot to stop penalty killer Josh Langfeld on a breakaway.
The Leafs got only one shot on Toskala in the first 10 minutes of the third. They were letting San Jose's No. 2 goalie off a large hook. Toskala hadn't won once in five previous appearances, and he had an abysmal .815 save percentage. The only reason he was playing was because Evgeni Nabakov pulled a groin muscle Friday in Buffalo.
McCauley backhanded in his own rebound for a power play goal with 5:45 remaining.
Allison then appeared to have a fallen Toskala beaten with a shot from a difficult angle at the side of the net. A video review was ordered and after a three-minute delay Allison was credited with a goal at 17:25.
That set up a hectic finish.
Belfour was pulled in favour of an extra skater, and Scott Thornton was penalized with 34 seconds remaining for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass in his own end. The Leafs poured it on but couldn't push the game into overtime.
"It goes to show that you have to work hard for 60 minutes or you'll lose the game,'' said Steen. "I don't know what happened. We didn't match their energy in the second and third periods.''
Toskala missed most of November with a groin injury.
"I'm really happy,'' he said of his first win this season. "I'm even happier my groin didn't hurt.''
It was the Leafs who were hurting as an Air Canada Centre crew laid plywood over the ice and the Sharks piled onto their bus for the ride to the airport.
Notes: Toronto had a 28-27 shots edge ... On power plays, San Jose was 2-for-5 and Toronto 1-for-6 ... Toronto is 3-7-2 when opponents score first ... Wade Belak, Mariusz Czerkawski and Clarke Wilm were healthy scratches ... Toronto's next game is at home Tuesday against Los Angeles (Sportsnet Ontario, 7:30 p.m. ET) ... Joe Thornton wore No. 19 in junior because his older brother's favourite player was Steve Yzerman. Rob DiMaio was wearing it when Thornton got to Boston so he took No. 6, which he wore for three years. When DiMaio left the club in 2000, Thornton finally got the 19 he wanted all along. He's also wearing it with San Jose.