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"Jumbo Joe" Thornton living up to nickname

by Rick Sadowski
DETROIT – Like his team, San Jose Sharks star Joe Thornton has been labeled a postseason underachiever.

The reputation was enhanced in the Sharks' opening-round series with the Colorado Avalanche when the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder nicknamed "Jumbo Joe" was overshadowed by 5-11, 190-pound Joe Pavelski.

Pavelski, who's gone from "Little Joe" to "The Big Pavelski," lit up the Avalanche for five goals in six games and continued his torrid pace with two goals and an assist in each of the first two games against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals. But following back-to-back clutch performances in Games 2 and 3 against Detroit, Thornton could be on the verge of building a more positive playoff reputation.

The 30-year-old center scored a third-period goal and set up Patrick Marleau's overtime winner Tuesday night in the Sharks' 4-3 win at Joe Louis Arena. That came two nights after he knocked in a third-period rebound for the decisive goal in San Jose's 4-3 victory at HP Pavilion.

Thornton has points in four consecutive games (2 goals, 4 assists), with both goals and three of the assists coming in the three games -- all wins -- against the Red Wings. San Jose gets its first chance to advance to the conference finals on Thursday.

Not that Thornton chose to talk about himself following Tuesday's come-from-behind win, which gave the Sharks a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

It was all about the team, which rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

"We're a confident group," Thornton said. "We felt like we could come back from any deficit. I think we've done that throughout the season. If we're down, we play hard. I think we did that tonight. We just stuck with it."

Thornton began the comeback after he lost a faceoff but regained possession of the puck and scored at 6:42 of the third period. He circled from behind the net and beat goalie Jimmy Howard, slicing the Red Wings' lead to 3-2.

"It started with Joe's goal," Marleau said. "He made a great play just coming around the net and finding some time and space and getting that puck in."

Rookie Logan Couture sent the game to overtime with 6:43 remaining, and Thornton fed Marleau on a 2-on-1 rush to win it.

"We believe in those players way more than the outside world does," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, referring to Thornton and Marleau, who also has received plenty of criticism. "I don't know how this evolved. I wasn't around for all of it, but you could see a very determined 19 tonight.

"On the faceoff, he loses it, he goes back to get it, has a wraparound goal. I thought Patty played his way into the game. He wasn't at his best early in the game, but later on he really played well and skated. It's a big deal in our locker room, but it's probably a lot bigger in here for all you guys that write and talk about our team and our game."

McLellan certainly was happy to see Thornton and Marleau barreling down on Howard in overtime.

"The puck came to Jumbo, and away he went," McLellan said. "Obviously to see a world-class passer … he even fooled me. I thought he was going to shoot at that point. He did a very good job to freeze the goaltender, and Patty went to the net with his stick on the ice.

"It was a combination of a passer and a receiver, and they got the job done."

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