SAN JOSE -- Joe Thornton's Stanley Cup Final dream was slowly turning into a nightmare.
The San Jose Sharks had lost the first two games of the Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins and limped home desperately needing a win. Thornton, who had 18 points in his first 18 postseason games this spring, did not have a point in San Jose's two one-goal losses. The other wing on the Sharks' top line, Tomas Hertl, could not play in Game 3 because of a lower-body injury.
Everything, it seemed, was crashing down on Thornton and the Sharks as they finally reached the moment that had been longed for from the day Thornton arrived in San Jose a decade ago.
But the man they call "Jumbo" refused to despair; instead, he was at the forefront of San Jose's 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3 at SAP Center on Saturday. Thornton earned assists on San Jose's two regulation goals in the first home Cup Final game for the Sharks in their 25-year history. Rookie Joonas Donskoi then scored the winner at 12:18 of overtime.
``It's a huge win," Thornton said. "You lose that and you go down 3-0; that's a deep hole to get yourself in. But we held serve, [it's] 2-1 now and the next game is at home. So it's a good feeling.''
Video: Postgame 6/4: Thornton
Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is here Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Sharks held serve in part because Thornton didn't lose his head when many on the outside expected him to. He had waited through 18 NHL seasons for this moment, and it looked to be slipping away.
Rather than being time to panic, to Thornton, it was time to redouble his efforts.
"You just feed of him," center Chris Tierney said. "You watch him out there, he never gets frustrated. He never panics. He just works hard every shift, comes to the bench and then goes out and works hard again. It's pretty easy to watch and try to mimic him."
Anyone can mimic Thornton's work ethic, in theory. Precious few can mimic his skill.
"I've said it for a long time, that guy is a legend," defenseman Brent Burns said. "He's unreal. He's one of the best to play. He's so good at protecting the puck and making plays. He's huge for us."
Thornton played 25:51 in Game 3. He played with different forwards, starting the game with Melker Karlsson as the third wheel of the Thornton-Joe Pavelski combination. Late in the game and in overtime, Logan Couture was in that spot.
"Obviously the biggest game of the year; at that point, I thought we were going to live and die with the big guys," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "We needed the win."
Video: PIT@SJS, Gm3: Donskoi goes top-shelf to win Game 3
It never mattered who his linemates were; Thornton was a factor on virtually every shift. He had four shots on goal and four other attempts that were blocked or missed the target. He had four takeaways. He won 10 of his 17 faceoffs.
He earned the primary assist on the first-period goal by defenseman Justin Braun that tied the game at 1-1 and had the secondary assist on the third-period goal by Joel Ward that forced overtime.
Couture has seen Thornton and Pavelski do these things many times before. The performance in Game 3, with the odds so far out of their favor, did not surprise him in the least.
"We are lucky here, we have some of the best players in the world on this team," Couture said. "We're pretty lucky as players and the fan base is lucky that these guys have been around so long."
Thornton and the Sharks are again in a position to chase a Stanley Cup dream instead of flee a nightmare.