In the Sharks lockerroom, the team knows the battlers and crunch performers that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are. However, they have dealt with more than their fair share of questions from those who have wanted longer playoff runs sooner for the talented duo.
“We have all the confidence in the world with those guys,” said Scott Nichol. “We knew these guys were going to step up. They really carried this team in this series. Jumbo was a beast, Patty was really skating and Heater was a force out there. That’s what we needed. They are our leaders. They’ve been there since day one and there was never a doubt in here.”
Saturday night, they could not have played a better role for Team Teal as they lifted the Sharks past the Red Wing, accounting for both goals in an exciting 2-1 win. They are part of a feistier and grittier Sharks team that grabbed all four of the victories by one goal.
Thornton opened the Sharks scoring by pumping in a rebound from in close on the power play. Dany Heatley was doing the dirty work out front and Thornton was properly positioned in the right spot as usual.
“We know what type of player Joe is,” said Heatley. “Teams prepare for him every single night.”
That was a vital tally as the Wings had scored the opening goal minutes earlier and Thornton’s marker instantly raised the decibel level at HP Pavilion to its highest of the night.
Then in the third stanza, Thornton and Marleau hooked up for the game-winner to finish of Detroit, who has long reigned supreme in the Western Conference. The two had definitely put notice out across the league that they had risen to the challenge.
“It is satisfying because they been the best hockey team the last five years in my opinion,” said Thornton. “They’ve dominated this whole league. They’ve been really great the last 20 years.”
For Thornton, the stats will tell the player was in on both goals in a one goal game, but that only begins to tell the story. Thornton has been hot with nine points in the last six affairs.
“Joe’s been playing great all playoffs,” said Marleau. “Guys look for points, but the first round he set me up a ton and could have had a lot more points. He’s been playing hard and battling. That’s all you can really ask and we’ve been winning games.”
“When you look at Jumbo as the playoffs have evolved, he has played a role outside of being a pure set up man and scorer,” said McLellan. “He’s played extremely physical, he’s been strong in the faceoff circle and the penalty kill. His turnover ratio has really gone down. We couldn’t be happier for him.”
Thornton acknowledged he was at his best against the Red Wings.
“They have a competitive bunch up front so that forced me to be on top of my game,” said Thornton. “Right off the first game I felt great. I was confident and rode it the entire series.”
Marleau is known for his fast shot and he needed it on the winner as he perfectly placed it from high in the slot. He finished with four points in the last four games of the series.
“Patty is a huge part of this team and the organization,” McLellan said. “His impact on the team, the community and our Sharks family hasn’t shrunk one bit because he’s not wearing that little piece of felt. In fact, I think he’s more or better equipped than he was last year to contribute as a leader. We saw it tonight. He upped his game when he had to.”
“He has been the face of this franchise,” Thornton said of Marleau. “It’s a big smile for the entire organization. Patty played great.”
This may have been the biggest shot of Marleau’s career.
“They all keep getting bigger, so hopefully I can keep saying that,” said Marleau.
“Patty Marleau scores the winner. That’s great to see too because we had some individuals that heading into the playoffs had to answer some questions,” said McLellan. “And I think to this point they’ve done that.”
The angle and force on the shot pushed Marleau to the ice and actually altered his usually fist pump celebration and he definitely looked more enthused.
The Sharks have shown that one line will not carry a team through two months of hockey, but that it will take an entire team of players to reach the ultimate goal.
“To go a long ways, you’re going to need everybody playing well,” said Thornton. “You’re going to need Pavs line playing well, our line playing well. Nabby playing well. Our D corps playing well. That’s just the reality of it and we did that in this series.”
For the second round though, it was definitely Thornton and Marleau paving the way late in the series. And paving past some old impressions.
2ND TIME This marks the second time San Jose has advanced to the Western Conference Finals, but the first time they clinched the feat on home ice. Marleau was around for the previous trip.
“A little bit older, a little bit wiser hopefully,” said Marleau. “This is a great bunch of guys and when we play our game and execute, good things happen. The odds are on our side if that happens. It’s nice to get into the third round.”
COULD BE SUNDAY The Sharks could know as early as Sunday evening who their opponent will be in the Western Conference Finals. Chicago leads Vancouver three games to one and they play tomorrow afternoon at 5 p.m. Pacific time.
“It’s going to be hard no matter who we play,” said Marleau.
SHARKS HEAD COACH TODD MCLELLAN: “I don’t know if it’s a changing of the guard. They are a very good team. They’ve been to the Conference Finals the last couple years. This is a very, very big win for our organization for a lot of different reasons. One, obviously is the opportunity to continue playing in this playoff year. Two, is to shed some of that reputation that we have supposedly earned in the past. By no means is our task done.”
“The fact that it was a team that has been to the Stanley Cup Finals the last couple years, a team that has quite frankly has had our number over the last little bit. And then the ability to recover from the shellacking we took in their building. I think there were more questions there. There were a lot of things to overcome.”
DETROIT HEAD COACH MIKE BABCOCK: “They won four games to one, so they were better than us. The games were tight, but they found a way to continually win, and that’s what good teams do.”
“I thought their team played hard. I thought there good players were really good, and I thought their goalie was excellent. Todd (McLellan) and his group had them well prepared. To me, anytime you get to the final four, you have had a really good year. What they do with it; we will see here on in.”
“There’s no question that year after year we have played a ton of playoff games. That catches up to you. Our guys will have more time to workout this summer than they have had in a long time. I think that will help out with our high end guys.”
“Right now it is a bitter pill to swallow in a lot of ways and no one likes losing. You come here to win, and think you’re going to win . . . I thought when we got through the first period, we would win for sure.”