In the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Nashville, center Joe Thornton
had 10 shots on goal in five games. He also had four assists, but no goals.
In Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals against Edmonton on Sunday, Thornton didn’t have a shot in 22:48 of ice time.
But on Monday night in Game Two, Thornton finally found the back of the net. Late in the second period, the Sharks were on the power play. Thornton had puck near the right boards deep in the Edmonton end. He passed the puck across the ice to Jonathan Cheechoo in the left shot.
From upstairs in the press box, Cheechoo appeared to have taken a shot on goaltender Dwayne Roloson. But Cheechoo, who was assisted by Thornton on 38 of his League-leading 56 goals, set up Thornton, who by then had skated towards the right slot, found open ice and put the puck into an open net.
“’Cheech’ just made a great play,” Thornton said. “It (the puck) was bobbling in the air a bit. Luckily, it stayed flat for me and I shot it into the open net.
That goal, which came at 17:29 of the second period, was Thornton’s first postseason goal with the Sharks. His goal had even greater significance for two reasons. First, Thornton’s tally answered Sergei Samsonov’s game-tying goal that came immediately after the Sharks killed off a 5-on-3 situation. Second, it was the last goal of the game and the game-winner.
“It was a huge 5-on-3 kill and to have that little goal (Samsonov’s trickler that got past Vesa Toskala) go in hurt us a little bit,” Thornton said. “But to come back and score that second one was a big one for us.”
As for scoring that first playoff goal in 2006, “I feel like I’ve been playing well, so it was just a matter of time before that puck went in,” Thornton said.
Starting Wednesday, the 2006 Playoffs presented by Intersil continues with Game Three, followed by Game Four on Friday, in Edmonton. These games will have some special meaning for two of the Sharks: center Mark Smith and rookie forward Grant Stevenson.
Smith is an Edmonton native who lists The Red & White Store as his favorite hometown hangout. Stevenson is from nearby Spruce Grove. In fact, Stevenson’s parents have four Oilers season tickets.
“I think I’m going to go into seclusion,” Smith said with a laugh.
How about registering at the hotel under an alias? “No, I don’t think so. It’s going to be pretty mellow all things considered,” Smith said with a little more laughter.
But as soon as he said that, Smith’s expression turned serious. “I’m going to try and stay away from as many distractions as possible.”
Of course, he’ll try to help his family and friends get tickets, but there are limits. “As long as they get them in right away so it’s not a last-minute thing,” Smith said, “then there’s no problem.”
As for family and friends seeing Smith while in Edmonton, that’s not likely, according to Smith. “We’ve got all summer for that,” he said. “This is my time right now to do what I can.”
Stevenson, who’s been getting playing time because of a lower body injury to Alyn McCauley, is looking forward to playing in Rexall Place. “I’m pretty excited,” Stevenson said. “It’s going to be fun to play back home again.”
Stevenson has already received 20 ticket requests, plus the four season tickets owned by his parents. So, Stevenson should have a strong contingent when he takes to the ice on Wednesday.
As game time approaches, there’s no doubt Stevenson, and even his family, will get some media attention. “They (parents) have been talking to local television stations,” he said. “It’s a good story. Local kid comes home to play against the team he grew up watching. I’m just enjoying the experience.”
The Sharks will arrive in Edmonton on Tuesday and play Game Three on Wednesday night. After that, Stevenson will have some time to see family and friends. “I’m not going to lock myself in my hotel room,” he said. “I’m definitely going to see some family and friends. But at the same time, I have to remind myself why we’re here…and that’s to play hockey.”