Sharks coach Peter DeBoer called it the most courageous an effort he's ever seen. General manager Doug Wilson, admittedly in the hockey business a long time, said it still amazes him.
Both were referring to Joe Thornton, San Jose's 37-year-old "can't-keep-me-out-of-the-lineup" alternate captain, who played the final four games of the Sharks' first-round playoff series against Edmonton with a torn MCL and ACL in his left knee.
Thornton was scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday to repair the injury sustained on April 2 that cost Jumbo the final three games of the regular season and Games 1 and 2 against the Oilers.
"To see a player play with that type of injury tells you all you need to know about him," Wilson said.
Thornton headlined the list of injured Sharks who tried their best against an upstart Edmonton team in a defensive-minded series that featured four one-goal games, two contests decided in overtime and the decider that was also a one-goal difference until inside the final second of play.
"That's part of the game, I don't want to focus all on that," Wilson said of the team's injury woes. "But the admiration I have for those players is off the charts." A quick review of San Jose's late-season MASH unit looks like this:
Patrick Marleau broke his left thumb late in the regular season. Unbeknownst the most, he didn't let the injury get in the way of leading the team with three goals against the Oilers;
Tomas Hertl suffered a broken foot late and missed only the final game of the regular season before returning to third-line center duties in the postseason where he led the team by winning 62.7 percent of his faceoffs;
Joonas Donskoi separated his shoulder twice during the second half of the regular season;
Logan Couture, who discarded a full face cage for the remainder of the series starting in Game 3, continued to deal with the pain, lost sleep and difficulty to eat after taking a deflected puck to the mouth that dislodged most of his teeth on March 25;
And Thornton, who suffered the first major injury since the Sharks acquired him from Boston 12 years ago after which he appeared in all but 12 games out of a possible 926 in the regular season in San Jose;
"There's a very fine line between being injured and being hurt," Wilson said. "I think they were right on the cusp of that. The medical staff did a great job of keeping them safe to play. But the heart and courage they showed - I've been in the business a long time - and it still amazes me."
Thornton spoke before DeBoer and Wilson on Monday as the Sharks cleaned out lockers in preparation for the offseason. He, of course, didn't come close to divulging the extent of his injury. He went as far to suggest the injury was "just the normal stuff hockey players deal with." At is turns out, far from it.
"I just know I was pretty sore playing," Thornton said. "We have a good training staff and team doctors who helped me get on the ice and try to perform 100 percent. But, yeah, (we were ) kind of dealt with those cards, are you're forced to play through some things."
To a man, no one used injuries as an excuse for losing to the Oilers. It was a defense-dominated series where offense was hard to come by at even strength or on the power play. One bounce here and one bounce there decided the outcome of all but Game 4, a 7-0 blowout win by the Sharks.
The Sharks would have liked to have better luck with their health, however. "Almost all the guys had something," Wilson said. "We don't make excuses. When it comes to hockey, you put 20 guys on the ice, you drop the puck and play. I know what a lot of these guys were playing through. This is a special group, they care for each other and they went beyond the call of duty when playing through some of these injuries."