On your typical playoff team that features a wizened old veteran looking for his first-ever championship, the old guy isn’t much more than a walking feel-good story, there to positively affect the locker room and take charge with the media. As the San Jose Sharks moved through the Western Conference Playoffs, it looked like 39-year-old Joe Thornton was settling into this role. In his previous eight games before the Sharks’ Game 3 win over the Blues on Wednesday, Thornton had tallied just one point—an assist—and in Game 2, he looked slow and lost when Robert Bortuzzo easily burned him for the game-winner.
But a change in lines from Pete DeBoer, placing Melker Karlsson on the wing with Thornton and Kevin Labanc instead of Marcus Sorensen, brought back a recharged Jumbo, as the grey-bearded Shark pounced on his opportunities to notch two goals and an assist on Logan Couture’s late equalizer. The brace may have brought Thornton only halfway to that long-anticipated cock-stroking celebration, but by getting the first multi-goal playoff game of his career, it has to be a relief to prove he’s not just a glorified assistant coach along for the ride.
“This guy’s one of the greatest players of all time,” DeBoer said after the game. “I know he wasn’t happy with his last game. And that’s the response you get from a Hall of Fame player. We wouldn’t have a chance to win without him.”
Grandpa Thornton’s pair were each a show of savvy, not skills. In both goals, he got the puck right in Jordan Binnington’s foyer, and he didn’t hesitate to go for the kill. In the first, he took advantage of a helpful bounce off his former tormentor Bortuzzo, and he backhanded the puck into a gaping net before Binnington could process what had happened.
In the second period, he again preyed on an out-of-position Binnington, taking a pass from behind the net and showcasing a smooth touch off his left foot before sneaking it below the Blues’ goalie.
For a Sharks team struggling to make use of its offensive depth so far in this series, the assertion from Thornton that he still has goals left to give is huge, and it takes some pressure off their top-line forwards after Timo Meier and Logan Couture dominated the scoresheets in the first two games. With his bad knees sometimes struggling to carry him through this final stage of his career, nobody would have faulted Thornton if his contributions diminished as the postseason dragged on. But on Wednesday, even if he didn’t exactly look like a kid again, Thornton still managed to achieve something new.
“It’s been a battle for him these last few years,” said Couture. “He’s gone through way more (difficulties) than a lot of people know. You’re watching a guy at 39, playing as hard as he can every night. You can’t fault his effort and his love for the game. It’s pretty inspiring.”