Sharks fans likely thought something to that effect, and in far more colorful terms, when Joe Thornton left with less than a minute left, and did not return to San Jose’s overtime loss to the Jets on Tuesday due to an apparent right knee injury.
It was eerie in its differences, as well as the underlying similarities, to the torn MCL and ACL Thornton suffered in his left knee last April.
In April, Thornton’s left knee buckled in the first period in Vancouver when he awkwardly collided with Michael Chaput, across the ice and an offensive zone away from the Sharks bench. Thornton made it back under his own power and hunched over, but needed significant help into the dressing room once he got there.
On Tuesday, his right knee buckled in the third in San Jose when Mikkel Boedker awkwardly collided with him, right in front of the Sharks bench in the neutral zone. Thornton took one stride with his left leg, then with his right, and walked into the San Jose dressing room with his back upright, a limp, and one trainer guiding his path.
In April, the Sharks were in the midst of a season-sinking tailspin, in their fourth-to-last game until the postseason. On Tuesday, the Sharks were winners in five of their last six, in their second-to-last game until the All-Star break.
The Sharks, now, are in a better position to absorb a potential absence.
They’re much healthier, for one, and don’t have to deal with Logan Couture’s absence. It’s earlier in the season, for another, leaving Thornton up to two-and-a-half months to recover, and the Sharks just over a month to make a significant trade, depending upon the severity of his injury.
But the Sharks, also, are still left with the same anxiety they felt in April.
After all, in a salary cap-driven league, it’s difficult to come up with an insurance plan if you lose a star player. The Tampa Bay Lightning came closest to having a viable one last season when Steven Stamkos missed 65 games, but they still missed the playoffs by a single point.
An already-thin margin of error would thus become much thinner. San Jose’s only three points clear of the Pacific Division’s third and final playoff spot, and just two up on the final wild card spot, far from an ironclad gap even if Thornton’s healthy.
Until Thornton’s injury is diagnosed, the Sharks are left with little choice but to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It’s a position they were in last April, and one they surely can’t believe to be in once more so soon.