Kings vs. Sharks: The Time Is Now for Joe Thornton to Redefine His Legacy

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2013

Joe Thornton has produced the kind of numbers that would make him a worthy entrant into the Hall of Fame someday.

However, statistics and the 1,118 regular-season points in the 1,125 games he has played in are not everything. They have never defined Thornton's career. Like many players, Thornton's reputation is based on his performance in the playoffs and his team's ability to win.

That's where Thornton's reputation has been left wanting. When you need a big win or a goal in a key playoff game, you may not find Jumbo Joe.

But with a close look at the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, you don't see a San Jose Sharks team that is playing with anything other than a maximum effort. Thornton is fighting for every inch of space he can get on the ice, and he is making big plays.

Thornton came through with the huge opening goal in Game 6 against the Kings, when he scored an early 5-on-3, power-play goal to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead Sunday night. That goal allowed the Sharks to dictate the pace throughout much of the game on their way to the 2-1 win.

The Sharks may have had a two-man advantage, but no goal against Jonathan Quick is easy. Thornton was in the proper position to score, but he had to receive a hard pass from Joe Pavelski smoothly, and then seamlessly get rid of the puck to score the goal.

Thornton did not hesitate.

The Sharks were able to hold on for the 2-1 victory and force a Game 7 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday. While the home team has won each of the first six games, there will be no giving in for Thornton and the Sharks.

Thornton, as he has throughout the majority of his career, is playing to salvage his reputation as a clutch player. If he can lead the Sharks to a big road win in Game 7, it could go a long way towards repairing much of the damage he's done at earlier points in his career.

Thornton first earned a reputation as a poor playoff performer as a young star with the Boston Bruins in the 2003-04 playoffs.

Thornton had already scored 100 points in his career and was expected to play a key role for the Bruins in their first-round playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 lead over their ancient rivals, but they lost the final three games of the series, and none of the final games were close.

Thornton didn't score a point in the series, and while he was not 100 percent healthy, he was the Bruins' most visible player and captain. He received much of the blame for their collapse.

Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul Dupont suggested at the time that Thornton should have given up his captaincy as a result of his poor leadership in that playoff series.

Thornton's time in Boston was doomed thereafter, and he was traded to the San Jose Sharks early in the 2005-06 season.

While he has put great regular-season numbers on the board consistently since leaving Boston, Thornton has never established himself as a dominant postseason player.

As the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft, it's a bit late to turn his reputation around at the age of 33. However, a road win against the defending Stanley Cup champions in Game 7 could help spur Thornton and the Sharks to a magical finish to the season.

Thornton has had much better playoff numbers throughout his run with the Sharks than he did in the 2004 playoffs with the Bruins. He scored 17 points in 18 games in the 2011 playoffs, as the Sharks made it to the Western Conference Final before losing to the Vancouver Canucks.

Had they won that series, the Sharks would have met the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

Thornton came through with a huge goal in Game 6 for the Sharks against the Kings. It was a good step, but he has more work to do if he wants to author a reputation-altering victory for himself and his team in Game 7.

The heat will be on, and Thornton will have one more chance to respond when the brightest lights are focused on him.