Counting over 1,300 games combined in the regular season and playoffs, Joe Thornton finally earned his chance at glory.
The San Jose Sharks, which started the 2015-16 season as 40/1 odds to capture the Stanley Cup, have finally erased past history of playoff disappointments and are on their way to their first-ever appearance in the Final. Their opponent will be decided in tonight’s winner take all Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final between the Lightning featuring future Bruin Steven Stamkos and the Penguins, coached by former Bruin Mike Sullivan and featuring another former Bruin, Phil Kessel.
For all of the Sharks’ failures, Thornton, who captained the team from for five seasons from 2010-2014, was often the fall guy in the Bay Area after failing to reach the Final. That same Thornton was widely ridiculed in Boston in 2004 when he refused to speak to the media following the Bruins’ Game 7 loss to the Canadiens — one where they blew a 3-1 series lead. In that first round series, Thornton tallied a grand total of zero points.
In 2014, Thornton was once again the center of blame as the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup that summer while San Jose’s coaching and management juggled with the thought of ‘stripping’ Thornton of his captaincy.
As much as Thornton bears some responsibility in past collapses — whether it was through his performances or his leadership — the narrative of him not delivering in crunch time was largely unfair to him. Well, at least now, he’ll get his well-deserved opportunity to raise Lord’s Stanley Cup for the first time.
While no longer the captain, Thornton is enjoying the perks of arguably his best postseason to date. He is averaging exactly a point per game in 18 games and is enjoying success on a line with new Sharks captain Joe Pavelski and the young and talented Tomas Hertl. In the last four games of the Western Conference Final, Thornton, who was held scoreless in the first two games of the series, tallied seven assists, including three helpers in Game 5 to put the Sharks on the brink.
Sure, Thornton only has three goals in the postseason, but he is unquestionably enjoying one of his best years in the Bay Area. Not only is he producing, but he is also leading by example even without the captaincy. He even has a beard that is as good — if not better — than Brent Burns’ unique Chewbacca-like facial hair (something that perhaps is the most surprising development during these playoffs).
For all the collapses and disappointments throughout his 18-year NHL tenure, the narrative and the criticism surrounding Thornton is starting to quiet down. Raising Lord’s Stanley would erase the critics once and for all.
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