SAN JOSE – Between the emotional toll taken by a tough first-round series and the physical one extracted by injuries, the Sharks needed a few players to rise to the occasion in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff second-round series with the Colorado Avalanche on Friday.
Joe Thornton’s line answered that call in a 5-2 win, as San Jose took a 1-0 series lead.
“Jumbo, he likes to think of us as the difference-makers,” said Kevin Labanc, one of Thornton's linemates. “That’s the way we want to play. It’s still a long playoffs and guys are going to get injured. So we have to be ready.”
Ready they were with a second-period scoring surge that gave San Jose a nice cushion on the scoreboard. Thornton, Labanc and fellow third-liner Marcus Sorensen scored or assisted on all three of the Sharks' second-period goals, giving the Sharks a much-needed burst of energy midway through the game.
The well-rested Avs jumped on the tired Sharks quickly in the first period, scoring just 2:10 in. But as the game went on, Thornton’s line answered by taking away Colorado’s offensive chances and turning them into rushes in the opposite direction.
“We just out-worked them,” Labanc said. “We were hard, we were heavier. We were winning our battles in the o-zone and in the d-zone.”
Labanc, who was coming off an impressive four-point night in Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights, added to his postseason highlight reel when he grabbed a pass from defenseman Brent Burns in the second period Friday. He deftly maneuvered the puck between Avalanche All-Star Mikko Rantanen's legs before depositing the goal that gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead -- their first of the evening.
“What a beauty,” Thornton gushed afterward when asked about Labanc’s goal. “Just a beautiful goal. He found some confidence from Game 7 and continued tonight. World-class goal, what can I say.”
That’s big praise from the guy who notched his 100th career playoff assist Friday, a feat only 23 NHLers before him have ever reached. Thornton also notched a goal himself in the second period when Sorensen made a slick saucer pass to set him up for a wrist shot on an odd-man rush.
“That’s all Marcus,” Thornton complimented. “Great little saucer pass over and I just had to hit the net there. He’s been skating real well and he just hasn’t been getting rewarded.”
Labanc had a front-row seat watching his linemates connect for the goal.
“Marcus, he was so tired, it was such a long shift for him,” he recalled. “But he got it through and Jumbo made a good shot. It got the whole rink going.”
The Sharks fed off the home crowd as the game went on, playing more energetically after fighting off elimination in three straight first-round games. That included two consecutive overtime games to close out the seres with Vegas, and the Sharks' start Friday was expectedly sluggish.
“I think we were a little bit tired, it was a long series with Vegas,” Labanc admitted. “But I think we got going as the game went on and once we did, we were hard to play against.”
If they can keep being that hard to play against, the Avalanche will have a hard time creating chances in this series.
“We’ve just got to stick with it and keep that momentum going for us in the second game,” Labanc said.