Good sign for injured Sharks: Thornton, Couture both return to ice

Good sign for injured Sharks: Thornton, Couture both return to ice

SAN JOSE -- It was a surprising development when Sharks center Logan Couture stepped out on the ice on Wednesday morning at the team’s practice facility.

It was even more extraordinary when Joe Thornton joined him just a few minutes later.

Despite the Sharks’ top two centers suffering what appeared to be gruesome injuries, as well as some mixed messaging from all sides since the injuries occurred, both could potentially be on their way to rejoining their teammates sooner than later. 

Thornton said after lightly skating for about 25 minutes that there was “no doubt” that he would be in for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday or Thursday of next week, and even left open the possibility he could play on Thursday. Couture, who ruled himself out for Thursday, left open the chance that he could be back by next week.

There was speculation that Thornton suffered sprained ligaments – or worse – on Sunday in Vancouver, when replays showed his left knee bending the wrong direction after a collision with the Canucks’ Michael Chaput. The veteran center made his way back to the bench on one leg, and then collapsed behind it before he required help getting to the dressing room.

“I think I was just kind of nervous. That’s all that was,” Thornton said. “Don’t want to put too much pressure on it, just didn’t know what quite happened. The next morning I woke up, no swelling, no nothing. Probably like a bruise, I guess.”

Is he surprised to be back on the ice so quickly?

“I’m pretty optimistic about things so I never thought it was going to be too, too bad. The training staff didn’t think so either,” Thornton said. “[They] just kind of told me day-to-day type thing. I felt good today. It was good skating. We’ll see if it feels good [Thursday] morning.”

An MRI on Thornton’s knee on Monday revealed “everything was fine,” said Thornton, who wasn’t wearing a brace but was still slightly limping.

Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott, filling in for an ill Pete DeBoer, was asked if Thornton skating on Wednesday was an indication that the future Hall of Famer’s condition isn’t overly serious. He seemed to pull back the reigns a bit on Thornton’s optimism.

“Well, we hope so,” Spott said. “That’s up to our medical team and to Joe. Obviously he’s a critical part of our hockey club, and the sooner we can get him back, the better.”

* * *

Couture skated for only about 10 minutes, wearing a full face shield to protect his significantly damaged mouth. That could put him ahead of schedule, as teammate Brenden Dillon said he thought the original timeframe on Couture was to get back on the ice “three or four weeks” after the injury occurred on March 25.

Couture said he has to get used to the extra protection, as he hasn’t worn a cage since he was a teenager.

“It’s not like a lower body or shoulder or anything like that, so it’s all about breathing and comfort – and, obviously, protection,” he said.

The biggest issue, other than still dealing with the pain, is seeing the puck.

“It’s tough to look down and find the puck on the ice,” Couture said. “But, that’s what I’m going to have to get used to. It’s all about protection right now, protecting my mouth area. That thing is going to do the job, so have to deal with it.”

He was less certain about Thornton that he would be ready for Game 1.

“I want to be back tomorrow if I could, but it’s just not realistic at this time,” Couture said. “We’re going to try to get back as soon as possible. I don’t know when that’s going to be. But, I hate watching games, and I’m going to try as best as I can to get back as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, the Sharks will host the Oilers on Thursday in what could be a potential first round preview, and close out the regular season on Saturday with Calgary. They’ll look to be better than they were on Tuesday against Vancouver, when jumped out to a 2-0 lead before essentially putting their game on cruise control in a 3-1 final.

Home ice in the first round will likely require winning both of their final two games.

“We’ve got to realize that we’re two games away from four games and you’re out,” Dillon said. “It’s got to be better for these last two.”

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.