SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks needed an answer, and they needed it desperately.
Their fast start in Game 5 of the Western Conference Second Round on Saturday had been negated by another goal from Shark-killer Mike Fisher, and it appeared the Nashville Predators would emerge from a first period on the road tied 1-1, a result that would be considered a win after the disparity in play between the teams through the first 20 minutes.
But first-line center Joe Thornton, the second-longest tenured member of the Sharks, made sure that answer came and came quickly enough to calm the nerves of his teammates.
Thornton took a pass from defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic along the half-wall and waited, head up, looking for an opportunity. He saw two things: A Nashville forward with a head of steam drawing a bead on him and San Jose captain Joe Pavelski sliding into an unmarked opening between the faceoff circles.
Thornton concentrated on the latter, ignoring the peril associated with the former. A perfect backhand pass before he was crunched against the glass by Craig Smith reached Pavelski, who used a lightning-quick release to rocket the puck past Rinne and restore the Sharks' lead 101 seconds after it had been relinquished.
The Sharks never looked back, scoring goals in the first and last minutes of the second period and another in the final minute of the third for a 5-1 victory in Game 5 to move within a win of eliminating the Predators.
The Sharks take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena on Monday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).
"I'd say if there is one guy you want with the puck in his hands, it's him," Vlasic said. "Whenever I have it, I give it to him because I know he will make the right play."
Thornton made the right play there and it was huge for the Sharks, but he had plenty of familiar company in Game 5. San Jose's core of veterans delivered their biggest games in their biggest game of the season.
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm5: Marleau buries home Donskoi's feed
Patrick Marleau, promoted to the second line, scored the game-opening goal and assisted on the fourth one. Marleau is the longest-tenured member of the Sharks; he joined the club in 1997 after he was drafted No. 2 by the Sharks.
Pavelski, who inherited the captaincy, last held by Thornton two seasons ago, scored two goals. He has eight in 10 games this spring.
Logan Couture, in his seventh season with the Sharks, scored on a beautiful individual effort 35 seconds into the second period to give the Sharks a two-goal lead.
"That's what we're supposed to do; we're supposed to go out and contribute offensively and score goals and play well," Couture said. "When we're winning games, most nights the big guys are contributing. That's just expected."
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm5: Couture slips puck five-hole past Rinne
This leadership group has accomplished so many glorious things, but it's still seeking the ultimate validation: a Stanley Cup championship. These Sharks know this might be their best chance, but they have to get past the Predators to keep the dream alive.
The prospects of doing that took a severe hit in Game 4, a gut-wrenching loss in triple overtime at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday.
There was little outward discussion about the predicament the Sharks found themselves in, and despite the response from the veterans on Saturday, there was apparently little internal discussion about it, as well.
"It's a big game. I think everybody knows that, so you don't talk about it too much," Marleau said. "But I think the guys did a good job."
Thornton, 36, was leading the charge all night. The pass to Pavelski may have been the signature moment, but there were almost too many complementary moments to count.
When the Predators tried to physically intimidate, he reacted in kind, refusing to shy away from a jousting match with defenseman Barret Jackman. He was verbally engaged all night. He won eight of his 13 faceoffs despite the fact that San Jose has struggled in the circle all series.
The competitive fire still rages white-hot in Thornton, who sometimes hides it with a casualness that can be wrongly interpreted by those watching from afar.
Thornton is serious about winning. He hungers to play for, and win, the Cup.
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm5: Pavelski scores twice against Predators
He has played 1,367 regular-season games, the past 835 with the Sharks. Saturday was Game No. 142 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has been close before, reaching the Western Conference Final in 2010 and 2011, but losing each time.
He and the rest of the leadership group hunger for another opportunity. It showed on Saturday.
"I think Joe brings that every night for us," said coach Peter DeBoer, who took over at the start of this season. "I don't see him as a guy where that game is something that he only brings once in a while. He's consistently bringing that.
"He's emotionally invested every time he puts his gear on. That's why he's a big part of our team, and a big part of our leadership."