ST. LOUIS – Sharks center Joe Thornton will never forget the first multi-goal playoff game of his career.
But not because he scored twice and added an assist in the Sharks’ thrilling 5-4 overtime win over St. Louis in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday.
Video: Karlssons OT winner gives Sharks 2-1 series lead
Winning Play: How Melker Karlsson helped Joe Thornton carry San Jose Sharks to Game 3 victory
The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer was more charged up by the way his team rallied with a late goal in regulation and an extra- session winner by Erik Karlsson.
Labanc (62) dropped it off for Thornton. Thornton held, luring three pairs of St. Louis eyes toward him; they perhaps expected a return to Labanc. Labanc covered, Thornton took what was given when the third Blue (Jaden Schwartz, 17) strayed from his defense of the point: He threw it back to Erik Karlsson (65).
Thornton turned in his biggest performance of this post-season at the perfect time. He pounced on the rebound of a shot from the point by Marc Edouard-Vlasic late in the first period to put the Sharks up 2-0.
Early in the second period, he provided a momentum-changing tally by converting just 18 seconds after Alexander Steen had scored for St. Louis to make it 2-1.
In Jumbo-like fashion, Karlsson absorbed contact from Vladimir Tarasenko (91) to make a play, clearing the lane for Brenden Dillon (4) to fire away. Labanc claimed the rebound, nobody took Thornton, and the 39-year-old suddenly had the first multi-goal playoff game of his career.
In addition, Thornton helped set up Logan Couture’s goal with 61 seconds left in regulation to send San Jose into its fourth OT game of the post-season.
“This guy’s one of the greatest players of all time,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. “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.”
Thornton has struggled at times over the last two series. He had just one assist in his previous eight games and linemates Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen were also in a funk.
DeBoer made a change Wednesday, benching Sorensen in a favor of Melker Karlsson on that third line. The move paid immediate dividends with Labanc adding two assists.
Thornton had just 16 goals in 73 regular-season games and it appeared as though age might have caught up with 6-foot-4, 220 pounder.
“A huge bounce-back night for that line and (Thornton) in general,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “He’s been positive. He’s a calming influence on us. He’s there for everybody. If it’s not going good for him, you wouldn’t know. He’s a good teammate, he’s always been that way.”
Thornton is one of the more popular players on the team and a fan favorite for his hustle and never-say-die attitude.
“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.”
“We just worked,” Thornton said. “We were patient and we made plays.”Related Articles Drew Remenda on the Sharks: ‘It was a hand pass’ Timo Meier explains ending to Game 3 from his vantage point St. Louis says it’s done feeling the ‘hand pass’ blues Pete DeBoer pushes back hard on perception Sharks are “lucky” Blues need to look in the mirror, not toward officials, after loss to Sharks
Thornton became the oldest player in franchise history to score twice in a single post-season game at 39 years and 10 months. He eclipsed the old mark set by Jeremy Roenick (38 years, 96 days) in the 2008 Western Conference quarterfinals against Calgary.
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 Coutures 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 hes not just a glorified assistant coach along for the ride.
This guys one of the greatest players of all time, DeBoer said after the game. I know he wasnt happy with his last game. And thats the response you get from a Hall of Fame player. We wouldnt have a chance to win without him.
Grandpa Thorntons pair were each a show of savvy, not skills. In both goals, he got the puck right in Jordan Binningtons foyer, and he didnt 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 didnt exactly look like a kid again, Thornton still managed to achieve something new.
Its been a battle for him these last few years, said Couture. Hes gone through way more (difficulties) than a lot of people know. Youre watching a guy at 39, playing as hard as he can every night. You cant fault his effort and his love for the game. Its pretty inspiring.
The Blues Got Screwed By Yet Another Officiating DisasterTimo Meier's Controversial Assist Hands The Sharks A Game 3 WinIs This The End For Joe Thornton And The Sharks As We Know Them?About the authorLauren TheisenLauren TheisenSports Blogger