Sharks hold off Blackhawks to take top spot in West

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The San Jose Sharks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in a battle for top spot in the Western Conference on Tuesday, withstanding a fierce third-period onslaught to hold on for a 3-2 victory.

San Jose netminder Evgeni Nabokov made 45 saves, many of them in the final minutes, while Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Jason Demers netted to help the Sharks snap the Blackhawks' (23-9-3) four-game winning streak.

"Our goalie gets an A-plus but as a team that's not the way you want to win hockey games," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle told reporters. "They have been playing a lot better than we have.

"We were playing on a back-to-back but that's no excuse. We'll take the win, but it's not very good."

The Sharks took a 2-0 lead into the third period after Heatley's first-period goal and Thornton's short-handed marker in the second.

Patrick Kane put Chicago on the board with a backhand at 4:10 in the third, but defenseman Demers responded 20 seconds later to give the Sharks some breathing space.

Marian Hossa scored to pull the Blackhawks within a goal with 1:51 remaining, but the Sharks (22-8-7) hung on to win their third in a row.

The Blackhawks outshot the Sharks 47-14, including 21-7 in the third period.

"We outshot them but we couldn't create the top, top chances," Hossa said. "We tried to shoot from bad angles and chaos in front of the net, but their goalie played well."

The teams entered the game tied atop the Western Conference with 49 points but the Sharks were able to avenge two earlier losses to Chicago this season including a 7-2 thumping on November 25.

San Jose have won three in a row after a string of five losses.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)