The slumping Sharks needed a win as badly as they have all season. They got it in Vancouver on Sunday night, 3-1, skating past a Canucks team that is not only in a rebuild but is down a number of players due to injury.
But even that win, just the Sharks’ second in their last 10 games, took a back seat to what happened in the first period.
With the Sharks holding a 2-0 lead, Joe Thornton shuffled over to Vancouver’s Michael Chaput along the wall. When Chaput pivoted to protect the puck, Thornton’s left knee came into contact with the Vancouver forward and appeared to bend in an unnatural direction.
Thornton fell over, got up, and glided to the bench on one leg. Then he collapsed behind the bench, and had to be helped to the dressing room.
Coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the game that he didn’t have an update on Thornton, but added: “We’ll get home and he’ll get checked out tomorrow.” According to the San Jose Mercury News, Thornton was able to leave the arena under his own power but was noticeably limping.
San Jose is already down another of its top centers, as Logan Couture has missed the last four games after taking a puck in the face on March 25 in Nashville.
The Sharks managed to beat Vancouver on the strength of a pair of goals by Tomas Hertl, both of which came before Thornton got hurt.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort for us,” DeBoer said. “Couture is out, Jumbo only played five minutes. Take two guys out of the lineup, I thought the guys responded and got a much needed two points for us.”
Joe Pavelski agreed with a suggestion that it was difficult to see Thornton go down like he did.
“He plays through so much, you know? Plays so hard,” the captain told reporters. “He’s been pretty healthy throughout his career. … We’ll figure it out tomorrow and go from there. Guys played a good game once he left, and kind of locked it down that way. It was pretty good. Obviously we hope [Thornton returns] sooner than later.”
If Thornton is to miss time, and with Couture’s long-term status also in question after he underwent significant dental work early in the week, the Sharks will need more players to fill the void as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are only a week-and-a-half away. The Sharks are also still in the running for a Pacific Division title and/or home ice in the first round, with just three games left in the season.
Hertl’s line could be coming together as he, Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker seem to be gaining some chemistry. That could at least allow the Sharks to remain competitive without potentially their two top centers, as they host the lowly Canucks again on Tuesday.
“To see [Hertl] come out and bang in a couple goals – that whole line was effective all night,” Pavelski said. “It was definitely what we needed.”
Hertl, whose game seems to ebb and flow based on his confidence, ended a 16-game goal drought.
The scoring slump was weighing on him. Perhaps now he’ll get that self-assurance back.
“Yeah for sure [it was] tough, because for me [I] expect some goals,” Hertl told reporters. “Sometimes you’re trying so hard and everything goes wrong, just minuses. But, I like our line the last four games. With [Boedker] and [Hansen], played very good hockey. We [created] a couple good chances and played a strong game tonight.”
While Sharks will need Thornton and Couture back sooner than later if they want any chance at making a deep postseason run, the head coach expressed confidence that the team’s depth players could step in.
“Hopefully he’s only out short term here,” DeBoer said. “I think we’re confident that as a group, we’re a team that’s the sum of our parts, not about one or two guys anyway. If anyone can handle it, we can.”