Winning Play: Thornton loses his way

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — There’s no doubt that emotion is important to winning hockey.

But there’s a thin line between engaged and enraged, and Joe Thornton crossed it in the San Jose Sharks’ Game 3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the opening frame, Thornton was San Jose’s most important player. When Vegas overwhelmed the visitors — the Golden Knights, aided by two power plays, reeled off 14 straight shots and two goals in the middle of the period — it was Thornton who stood up to the barrage.

That’s a 39-year-old Thornton (19) flying down the ice, popping it away from Jon Merrill (15), then backhanding a perfect pass into Kevin Labanc’s (62) wheelhouse.

Jumbo’s next shift was arguably better.

Once again, Thornton’s skating pop and length were heavily involved on the forecheck; he also set up an Erik Karlsson (65) howitzer off the post and drew an uncalled high stick from Merrill.

This was, legitimately, an inspiring example of leadership from a veteran superstar who’s nearing retirement and desperately seeking his first Stanley Cup.

What happened in the next period was not.

Simply put, this was an irresponsible act from the Sharks assistant captain. He’s too important a player to risk a multi-game suspension in the playoffs for something so ... unnecessary.

"Not good enough," was how Joe Pavelski summed up how San Jose handled the emotions of the game. He wasn’t speaking specifically of the Thornton headshot on Tomas Nosek, but he may as well have been.


There isn’t much else to say about a game where the Sharks were genuinely awful in every facet.

On the bright side, San Jose is down just 2-1. It’s been a volatile series — Game 1 was all Sharks, Game 2 was even, while Game 3 was all Knights. Assuming that Thornton is suspended and Micheal Haley is unavailable, this squad actually has the depth up front to weather their losses.

Waiting in the wings are Joonas Donskoi and Lukas Radil. Both forwards were significant contributors to San Jose’s 31-9-3 run from December to March.

However, the Sharks are straining their blueline depth. Karlsson doesn’t appear close to fully healthy, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed Game 3 with a suspected upper-body injury. Brent Burns, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon might be Peter DeBoer’s only healthy-ish, trustworthy defensemen right now. For what it’s worth, Joakim Ryan clocked 17:38 last night, while Tim Heed played only 10:33.

This would be a good time for Jones to step up, but frankly, there isn’t any reason right now to believe that this is his year.