SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton almost certainly isn’t at 100 percent. If he were, then he would have been one of the six skaters on the ice in the closing seconds of Sunday’s Game 3 at SAP Center, as the Sharks were desperately seeking the equalizing goal that never came in a 1-0 loss to the Oilers.
Still, Thornton was a welcome addition to the Sharks’ lineup just two weeks after his left knee appeared to bend backwards on April 2 against Vancouver when he collided with the Canucks’ Michael Chaput.
The first period was probably evidence enough that Thornton is, in fact, the heartbeat of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks played perhaps their most physical first period of the season, getting credit for an incredible (and, yes, generous) 34 hits and dominating the game territorially, even if they couldn’t solve Cam Talbot.
"I thought he was great. He's our emotional leader in there,” Pete DeBoer said. “A gutsy effort by him. There was just no keeping him out. I thought he came out and had a great game for us for not playing in a while.”
Joe Pavelski said: “It was a nice boost for us, definitely. Coming home, playing in this building, you could feel the excitement, the energy. Having him coming back as well, you could tell. You could feel it in warmups. It was definitely a boost.”
Although the Sharks took Game 1 of their series with the Oilers, they were badly outplayed throughout much of Game 2 in Edmonton. Pavelski commented that the compete level wasn’t where it needed to be.
Getting the outgoing and always chatty Thornton back on the bench offered a surge in that regard.
“It was great having Jumbo back. He’s an emotional leader, he’s a vocal leader,” Couture said. “He’s a guy that, it’s incredible what he plays through. The heart that guy has is pretty unbelievable.”
Thornton, as is typical, didn’t go into much detail about how he felt. He finished with two shots on goal, four shot attempts and two hits in 16:27 of ice time. He took just two faceoffs.
“I felt fine. I felt great. Feel healthy, and ready to go for Game 4 now,” Thornton said.
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In a shocking development, Couture decided to forego the full cage that was protecting his injured mouth with a standard visor. The center had commented numerous times that he was having trouble seeing the puck with the extra facial gear after a deflected puck on March 25 did major damage.
“Figured enough damage has already been done,” said Couture, who will require extensive dental work in the offseason. “If I get hit again, I’m just the unluckiest guy in the world.”
Couture said he got the OK from the Sharks’ medical staff to ditch the cage “about 15 minutes before warm-ups.”
Like Thornton, though, Couture surely isn’t operating at 100 percent. He’s managed one shot on goal in each of the three games in the series.
“I can’t put percentages on how I feel,” he said. “Everyone’s hurt in the playoffs. No one is 100 percent. I’m working my way back into it. I felt better tonight. Obviously would have liked to create some more offense, but I felt pretty good.”