With 9.3 seconds left on the clock in the most recent San Jose-Calgary game, it looked as though the playoff version of Joe Thornton may have finally arrived.
Thornton deflected home a Doug Murray point-shot in the dying seconds of the game to make it 3-2 and cap off a late rally by his Sharks to even up their series with the Flames at two games a piece.
The goal certainly made up for an otherwise poor game that saw the former first overall pick struggling to make plays, losing key draws and turning over pucks, much like he has throughout his playoff career.
"Joe-Tho" has been a highly touted prospect since his youth and consistently dominated during the regular season as evidenced by having 95+ points in four of his past five campaigns and winning the Art Ross Trophy for league scoring in 2006 with 125 points.
Only one thing seems to have dogged his increasingly "Hall-of-Fame-Like" career so far though. The playoffs.
Through his 60 playoff games to date, Thornton has scored 9 goals and had 32 helpers for 41 total points. By no means are these terrible numbers, but when compared to legendary playoff performers numbers, like Peter Forsberg's 169 points in 147 games or Mark Messier's 295 points in 236 games, they seem to fall flat.
Thornton is a very good hockey player, but to become a great player he will need to raise his performance in the playoffs like so many legends before him.
Although, for fans of Thornton and hockey in general, all hope is not lost and we may still see Big Joe hit his stride someday.
Interestingly enough, while playing for HC Davos in the Swiss Elite League during the lockout of 2005, Thornton actually had a solid playoff year for the club. In 14 games he put up 25 points, 21 of which were assists, as he led the club to the league championship that year.
Also, in his 25 playoff games since being traded to the Sharks he has been plugging away at almost a point-per-game rate. While this still may not be Messier territory, it is far better than the measly 18 points he posted in 35 playoff games with the Boston Bruins.
So while Thornton has yet to really solidify his status as one of the games all-time playoff greats, he is beginning to show signs that he may be on his way.
Thornton might just be a late-bloomer, so if he's anything like a fine wine then we should only expect him to get better with experience and hopefully realize his true potential.
With any luck, last night's goal will be just what he needed to uncork it.
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