SAN JOSE- Logan Couture scored the game winning goal in overtime, but it was the efforts of Sharks captain Joe Thornton—in the second period in particular—that was the true driving force behind San Jose’s 2-1 victory in Game 3. (San Jose now trails Los Angeles two games to one with Game 4 to come on Tuesday)
Joe Thornton was simply not going to be denied on this night.
With Martin Havlat (who probably shouldn’t of played) re-injuring himself, and Couture hobbled after a fall into the boards, San Jose played an extended amount of time in the middle period with just 10 forwards. Led by Thornton, the Sharks didn’t look any worse for the wear.
In that second frame San Jose still managed to dominate the Los Angeles Kings in terms of puck possession. The Sharks out-shot the Kings by seven in the second, and it wasn’t until the third period where Los Angeles was first able to pin San Jose in their own zone for successive shifts.
Sharks players and head coach Todd McLellan praised their group as a whole for shift and puck management in that second period.
“That talks about our depth” commented starting nemtinder Antti Niemi. “Everybody wants to play and I think some guys didn’t mind playing a little more.”
“Guys stepped up, Kearnsie, fourth line played a lot, third line created a lot of energy” added Marc-Edouard Vlasic. “Guys stepped up [with] short shifts, game management and we did a good job.
“You just got to be smart, keep the shifts a little shorter. The guys did a good job keeping up the pace of play” chimed Dan Boyle. “Not doing too much and just being smart out there. ”
I probably did a poor job phrasing my question as I tried to entice McLellan to focus more on Thornton’s individual efforts but the coach talked about the group as a whole:
“I thought everybody elevated their game [in the second]. I thought our game management at that point of the night was as good as it’s been all year as far as shift length, puck management, getting fresh people on the ice.”
While the Sharks got great efforts from all their forwards, it was Thornton leading by example that really stood out. It appeared as if the Thornton line was out there every other shift in the second period. The trio has been the best line for either team over all three games but it was their ability to stay dominant in that middle stanza that stood out.
If there were ever a period for the Kings to take advantage of the Sharks it would have been that second frame. But the pure will of Thornton and linemates T.J. Galiardi and Brent Burns kept the Kings consistently hemmed in their own zone.
Now despite being guilty of some ill-advised passes at times, (which can happen when you’re such a great passer) Thornton has been mostly dominant in these playoffs. Specifically, he’s back to the dominant board player we’ve seen for the majority of his career.
Perhaps he was managing his energy levels, but Thornton’s board work during the regular season didn’t seem up to his normal standards. Thus far in these playoffs however, he is back to shielding the puck in the corners and behind the net better than anyone else.
For Thornton, this is now the third straight postseason where he’s played dominant two-way hockey. He was tremendous in all three rounds in 2011, brilliant against St. Louis last year, and has been stellar again here in these playoffs. He won’t tell you he ever changed his game, but all of Thornton’s best playoff performances have come on the supposed “wrong” side of 30.
Maybe not better with age, but smarter with age.
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