THN’s Take: Don’t say Joe Thornton doesn’t perform in the playoffs.
The captain of the San Jose Sharks now leads the NHL playoff scoring race and is shaking any notion he doesn't show up at clutch time. Just as the Sharks were considered destined for failure at the commencement of recent Stanley Cup tournaments, a Thornton letdown was as easily predictable. But just in case the team’s run to the Western final last year didn’t convince you it had changed its identity, Thornton is making sure everyone this year wakes up to the fact that he and the Sharks can step up just fine.
The first big sign of Big Joe’s hunger this year was Game 6 against Los Angeles when he scored the series-clincher. If you saw that and thought "something about him is different this time around" you weren’t alone.
There are definitely some frustrating times when Thornton will opt to make a difficult pass rather than a high percentage shot, but when it comes to the overall picture, that’s only a minor glitch. While his offensive efforts will certainly put him into any Conn Smythe debate by default, there are so many other reasons why these have been his best playoffs yet by a wide margin.
Off the initial draw in this series, Thornton thought it would be a good idea to try and fight Ryan Kesler. Now, whether you think the tactic is legitimate or not, you can’t deny seeing that type of passion from Thornton was a good thing. After all, he has for years been accused of playing passive, so how can you ride him now for showing some snarl?
Thornton’s defensive play has been stout and proof-positive of how the plus-minus stat can be terribly misleading. But more than anything, he’s making everyone he plays with better and that’s what the best players do.
Patrick Marleau has been invisible at times this spring, but he’s been noticeable lately with four goals in three games this series. Is this surge because Marleau has found a new gear? No, it’s because Thornton has been bringing out the best in him.
The Sharks needed a strong first effort in Game 3 to make sure their justifiably tentative fans were loud early and often. It was Thornton who got them going and it's Thornton who has the Sharks back in this series.
(As an aside, I wrote earlier this week I couldn't understand how anyone could hate the silliness of Vancouver’s Green Men and that they are a part of the game’s atmosphere and character. But, at the risk of sounding as negative as Glenn Healy, San Jose’s copy cats were just lame.)
1. Joe Thornton - He leads the league in scoring with only three goals because of nights like this. ‘Big Joe’ had three assists in a monstrous 25:35 of ice time and his heads-up pass led directly to Marleau’s breakaway goal.
2. Patrick Marleau - Thornton stirs the drink, but Marleau gave it some pop tonight. As great as playmakers are, you need to have players who can finish to win games and Marleau finished twice in Game 3 and added a tic-tac assist on Dan Boyle’s goal.
3. Antti Niemi - He nearly let the lead slip away, but Niemi had a few highlight-reel saves that kept the Sharks with a comfortable lead early on. He made the saves he needed to in order to get the Sharks the slim win.
The Black Hole
Jamie McGinn - It’s not often a member of the winning team will be adorned with the raspberry award, but McGinn’s dumb hit-from-behind/charge/board on Aaron Rome gave the Canucks life and put them in a position where one lucky bounce would have sent the game to overtime.
POLL:Who was your first star of the game?
The NHL Game Night Recap will get you caught up with all the playoff action. THN will name our Three Stars for each game and tabulate the results after each series. First Star = three points, Second Star = two points, Third Star = one point.