In the most important game of their lives, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton came up big.
Thornton notched an assist on the game's opening goal, while Marleau dished out two assists of his own. The longest-tenured Shark in franchise history was particularly dominant, posting a 59.09% Corsi-for percentage at even strength, fourth-best on the team. These performances shouldn't come as a surprise, as the pair has a knack for showing up in big moments.
Marleau is in the top 20 in playoff goals, the top 10 in game-winning goals, and tied for fifth in overtime goals. Jumbo Joe is no slouch either, ranking 32nd all-time in playoff assists, and 58th in points. Outside of his first four seasons as a professional, Marleau has averaged less than half-a-point per playoff game just once. In 23 potential series-clinching games with the Sharks, Thornton has 19 points. In 10 seasons in San Jose, Thornton's points-per-game mark in the playoffs has dropped below 0.75 just once.
The former captains are proven postseason performers. Yet, a narrative arguing the contrary persisted. Marleau and Thornton have received the brunt of the criticism for the Sharks' playoff failures up to this point. Every year the Sharks have been eliminated, ink's been spilled outlining how the top two picks in the 1997 draft are to blame. Management has perpetuated this narrative, as both Marleau and Thornton have been stripped of the captaincy following first round exits against Southern California rivals Anaheim and Los Angeles, respectively.
As a result, a lot was written last night and this morning following the Sharks' Western Conference-clinching win over the Blues about Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. ESPN's Craig Custance said Marleau and Thornton "continue to rewrite their legacies." NBC Sports' Mike Milbury mentioned postgame that both players had contributed more than in the past.
Jake touched on this about Thornton earlier this week, but last night, Thornton and Marleau did what they've always done in the playoffs. Like every player, they've encountered cold streaks, but laying the majority of the blame for the Sharks' postseason failures at their skates was always inaccurate. The "labels" Thornton and Marleau are shedding are largely products of an off-ice narrative that doesn't match the one written by their play on the ice.
In reality, Thornton and Marleau haven't let down the Sharks in the past, the Sharks have let them down. Hockey's a team game, and the team hadn't been good enough. Amidst stripped captaincies to supbar performances from the depth players surrounding them and the goaltenders playing behind them, Thornton and Marleau have remained constant performers.
Now, the Sharks are getting strong performances from their depth and in the crease, and they sit within striking distance of the franchise's, as well as Thornton's and Marleau's first-ever Stanley Cup. It feels different than other Sharks playoff runs, but in the two longest-tenured Sharks' cases, it's more of the same.
Perceptions of Thornton and Marleau are changing, but that's because they're finally catching up to reality.