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McLellan says Thornton a go for Game 5

by Dave Lozo
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Sharks fans everywhere can exhale -- Joe Thornton will be available for Tuesday's must-win game against the Vancouver Canucks (9 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS).

Coach Todd McLellan said Monday that despite his captain missing the final 10 minutes of Game 4 Sunday with an apparent shoulder injury, Thornton will be in the lineup Tuesday for Game 5 in Vancouver with the Sharks in a 3-1 hole in the Western Conference Finals.

"When Joe Thornton comes to you and tells you he's playing, he's playing," McLellan said. "That can happen in exhibition season, that can happen at St. Thomas (Thornton's hometown in Ontario) at a charity game in the middle of the summer, so expect Jumbo to play (Tuesday)."

Thornton did not participate in Monday's optional practice, but few of the Sharks regulars did. McLellan said Thornton was using the day to rest and receive treatment on his injury. Thornton was not available to speak to the media at the conclusion of practice.

It's possible Thornton, who is tied for second in playoff scoring with 17 points, might not be at 100 percent when he takes the ice at Rogers Arena on Tuesday. However, his teammates agree that Thornton at less than 100 percent is better than most players who are completely healthy.

"He's a presence in the locker room. I'm not even sure myself what the situation is going to be," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Just having him around is something we need. We'll see what happens (Tuesday), but he's going to be there. I know that."

"You like to see him in the lineup, that's for sure," linemate Patrick Marleau said. "He's a huge help and obviously a top player."

Thornton is in his first season as Sharks captain. The decision to give him the "C" was something that received a lot of scrutiny and criticism, but McLellan said he hasn't regretted the decision all season, and Thornton demanding to play through his injury is another example of why he's the team's unquestioned leader.

"There was a lot of questions out there as to whether Joe would be the right captain or not," McLellan said. "When I say 'out there,' I mean exterior, not inside our walls, locker room or organization. We felt very good about it. We felt for us to have success, he needed to be our captain, was prepared to be our captain.  I think he learned a lot from (previous Sharks captain) Rob Blake. He's carried that torch or that tradition on.

"I can't think of any times during this year, this season, where I didn't feel good about him being our ultimate leader."

Besides the willingness to play through what could be a significant injury, Thornton showed he wanted to be a better all-round player. Thornton's dedication to the defensive side of the game resulted in a League-leading 114 takeaways; he's tied for second in the postseason with 20 takeaways.

"Jumbo is an extremely coachable player," McLellan said. "He's receptive to becoming a better player, improving in all different areas.  He's asking for ways. He's prepared to apply them. He's very open to all of that. That isn't always said by superstar players. A lot of them can be very stubborn, not buy in, not be prepared. He's accepting playing any way he has to play to be successful, not necessarily as an individual, but team-wise. He's been pretty good that way."

Logan Couture wasn't sure if Thornton would play Tuesday, but said even if he couldn't, it's not about one individual at this time of year. It's going to take a major effort from everyone if the Sharks want to win three straight against the team that won the Presidents' Trophy this season.

"I'm sure Joe will play. He's a warrior," Couture said. "He plays through a lot. He plays hurt all the time. I'm sure he'll be good (Tuesday).

"In the playoffs you need every single player because these are the best teams that are left. We're going to need every single player to win (Tuesday)."

Not only did Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo believe Thornton would play, but also said his injury won't do anything to hamper his game.

"I expect Joe to play like Joe," Luongo said. "It's the playoffs. You suck it up and you play. I'm sure he'll be just as effective (Tuesday) as he's been the whole series."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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