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Thornton coming of age
Sharks captain earning his stripes
5/17/11 - By Mike Lee -

I'll admit that I've always been a little lukewarm about Joe Thornton. I've reserved any gushing until he delivers something beyond the MVP trophy that he brought to San Jose in 2006. I've been waiting for him to deliver something bigger than a trophy awarded for an individual performance. I've been waiting for him to deliver a Stanley Cup. After five years, he finally did something that makes me believe that he's not only equipped to be the Sharks captain, but that he just might be the guy to finally bring a Cup to San Jose.

Just moments before opening faceoff between the Sharks and Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of their Conference Finals series, Thornton coasted to center ice, and challenged Canucks forward Ryan Kesler to drop the gloves.

We're talking about the start of one of the biggest series in either team's history, and Joe Thornton is challenging one of the Canucks biggest stars to a fight! Kesler certainly didn't see that one coming.

Kesler also declined Thornton's invitation, but the message was clear. Thornton was here to play.

How can you not applaud Thornton for that opening move? Sure, the Sharks dropped the series opener, but not because of Thornton. He scored a goal and added a big assist on the Sharks other goal. He was a force defensively. He did everything the Sharks could have asked of their captain.

His performance was huge even if you subtract his antics before the opening faceoff, but somewhere along this playoff trek, Thornton has become a bona fide leader.

Thornton probably had a pretty good idea that Kesler wasn't going to go with him. Kesler didn't engage anyone this season, and the opening faceoff in a series opener also seems like the least likely time to drop the gloves. That's another reason Thornton's move was so great.

What was Kesler supposed to think? How does anyone respond to something like that?

"I just assumed, 'Let's fight,'" Thornton told Sportsnet.ca on Tuesday. "Let's start this series off with a bang."

Kesler responded by saying that, "I'm not going to engage in that, I'm not going to respond to that. "He can talk to me all he wants and he's not going to get anything from me."

Kesler then had to defend himself for backing down.

"I'm not intimidated by anyone," Kesler said. "I played against (Shea) Weber and that beard last round."

Thou doth protest too much, Ryan.

Too bad Thornton's teammates ran out of gas in Game 1. It would have been a great ending to a game that started out swimmingly for San Jose.

I've been saying since last week that the Sharks shot themselves in the foot by allowing Detroit to take their WC Semi-Final series to 7 games. Roberto Luongo even openly hoped that's how thing would play out for San Jose and Detroit after the Canuck eliminated the Nashville Predators, because he knows the rest is pretty darn important this far into the season.

The Canucks immediately earned an advantage by grabbing two extra days of rest. Home ice is already a big obstacle to overcome, but forcing yourself to play 48 hours after the emotional roller coaster last Friday, it was bound to take its toll.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not calling this a series by any stretch of the imagination, but the Sharks have a hill to climb. Hopefully Thornton is the man to lead the way.

Locking Things Down

If you're planning on attending Game 3 in San Jose on Friday night, plan for added security checks at the front gate. The Sharks announced that they would be adding to the security at HP Pavilion, including "electronic searches, pat-downs and bag searches."

I'm all for stuff like this at high profile events, because frankly, the world is a little too nutty right now. Given all the events that have gone down in Pakistan, I'm hoping they search everyone.

In any case, expect delays getting into HP Pavilion, so plan accordingly. The Sharks are encouraging everyone to arrive early. They are also hosting a street carnival outside the arena before the game.



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