May 16, 2010, 12:15 PM EDT
San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
3:00 p.m. EDT, May 16, 2010
Live on NBC
Join us at 2:45 p.m. for a live
chat during today’s game!
The San Jose Sharks needed a difference maker on their
team. Fresh off the lockout and just a season removed from a painful
exit in the Western Conference finals the Sharks traded for Joe
Thornton, sending Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau to the
Boston Bruins. The talented center was known for his playmaking ability
and Thornton instantly sparked the offense of the Sharks, putting up 92
points in just 58 games after being traded in the fall of 2008 and has
since remained one of the top playmakers in the NHL. Just one problem:
He completely disappeared in the playoffs.
Thornton’s struggles have been directly tied to the
failings of the Sharks in the playoffs and for good reason. This was the
player the Sharks needed to be at his best in the postseason, the one
who worked so hard to get them to that point and the last player they
needed to fade into the background.
The past four seasons he’s averaged less than a point a
game in the playoffs, managing just a goal and four assists in last
year’s first round departure against Anaheim. In the first round this
season, it looked as though his postseason struggles would continue. He
had just three assists in six games against the Avalanche and was
certainly a non-factor in his team’s series victory.
He can thank Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley for picking
up the slack.
With the pressure taken off of Thornton, he emerged
against the Red Wings and just with the rest the Sharks seemingly
smacked that monkey right off his back. Three goals five assists in just
five games against the Red Wings saw Thornton’s energy and playmaking
vigor renewed. You could see the weight lifted off his shoulders as
Pavelski took over the role of leading scorer for the Sharks, and while
you’d prefer that Thornton would be able to step up perhaps having the
pressure off has freed him up.
Unfortunately, Thornton will always have the stigma of
flailing in the postseason until he leads his team to at least the
Stanley Cup finals. Getting to this point is great, but it’s tough to
say that Thornton actually was “leading” the Sharks. He’s coming on
strong now, and has a chance to prove that everyone claiming he’s a
failure in the playoffs was wrong.
If he continues his strong play against a great team
like the Blackhawks, his critics will be momentarily silenced. That is,
at least, until the Sharks get to the Cup finals and he manages just
three points in a five-game series loss. Then he’ll be a failure all
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