Joe Thornton doesn't lack for confidence in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, how many players, even one as accomplished as the NHL's leading active scorer, would ask his son, "Corner pocket or top shelf tonight?" That's the question the San Jose Sharks forward asks as he heads out the door on the way to SAP Center and Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Colorado Avalanche.
This is the kind of inside look at the eight teams that qualified for the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs fans will get when "Quest For The Stanley Cup" returns for a fourth year. The seven-episode documentary series looks at coaches and players on and off the ice as they all pursue the same objective -- getting their name on the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. New episodes will debut each Friday at 6 p.m. ET, beginning May 3. The series will be shown exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States and YouTube.com/NHL in Canada.
It's likely that no one is on more of a quest for hockey's ultimate prize than Thornton, whose NHL career began in 1997. "I haven't had the chance to win the Stanley Cup yet," he says during the drive to Game 1. "That's why you play. I'm going to be 40 this summer (on July 2), so you don't know if it's going to be your last chance.
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"I'm lucky enough to be playing in the best league in the world for so long. It puts a smile on my face every day. Every single day."
But there's more than just smiles. Thornton and the Sharks have plenty of aches and pains after a seven-game victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. "We just came off a huge Game 7 win, and I think a lot of the guys were tired after that one," he says. "We'll get our energy back, and I expect a big game from the boys tonight."
The Sharks, Avalanche and the six other teams who've gotten this far also know there's a price to be paid. As Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy reminds his players, "It hurts to win. That's life in April and May."
One of those who gets hurt is Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek, who leaves Game 2 against the New York Islanders in the second period with a lower-body injury. Backup Curtis McElhinney steps in and plays flawlessly in a come-from-behind 2-1 win, then catches the game puck from coach Rod Brind'Amour, who jokes that the 35-year-old "came in from the hot dog stand."
Losing a game you could have won is every bit as painful as a physical injury, as the Dallas Stars discover when a late goal lifts the St. Louis Blues to a 4-3 win in Game 3 of their series. "We need to come out a little better, dig a little deeper," defenseman Ben Lovejoy says.
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But for the Columbus Blue Jackets, among the NHL's final eight for the first time since entering the League in 2000, there's unbridled joy after a 2-1 win against Cassidy's Bruins in Game 3 in front of a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena.
"The best feeling in all of sports; exhausted but victorious," NBC announcer Mike Emrick intones as Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky skates around the ice after being named the game's No. 1 star.
It's a feeling every player and coach on all eight teams are eager to experience on the ultimate level a few weeks from now.