VANCOUVER – With San Jose facing elimination the Sharks are hoping the return of their captain can give them the boost that will help force another game.
Joe Thornton will return to the Sharks’ lineup for Tuesday’s game after missing the last 10 minutes of San Jose’s 4-2 loss Sunday, as Vancouver grabbed a 3-1 stranglehold in the best-of-seven series.
“He’s our best player and our leader so guys look to him,” third-line winger Torrey Mitchell said Monday after the Sharks arrived from San Jose.
“It’s obviously him playing hurt is going to be a big thing. It’s going to lift us.”
Thornton was doubtful for Game 5 of the Western Conference final after a shoulder-to-shoulder hit in the third period from Vancouver’s Raffi Torres.
“He tells me he’s ready to play,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “When he tells us that, he’ll be in the lineup and ready to go.”
McLellan hinted that Thornton might not be that banged up.
“He’s ready to play. I think we’re assuming that this guy’s very injured,” McLellan said of his captain who is tied for second among playoff scorers with 17 points going into Monday’s action.
“We plan on playing him as many minutes as he normally gets (a playoff average of 21 minutes 20 seconds).
“At this point we’re making more out of it than there actually is.”
The big, rangy centre wasn’t on the bench Sunday when his teammates tried to rally from a two-goal deficit.
He didn’t skate at the Sharks’ practice facility on Monday but rested and received treatment. He was not made available to the media.
“(He’ll bring) what he usually brings, play like big ol’ Joe,” said rugged defenceman Douglas Murray. “Go out there and be a dominating player.”
The Sharks say they haven’t played their best hockey this series but they face a formidable task to force a sixth game on Thursday.
San Jose has only two wins in its last eight playoff starts and must win three straight against the Canucks or their season is over.
Vancouver has won eight of their last 11 playoff games since losing three in a row to Chicago in a near-collapse in the opening round.
While the Sharks have won four playoff games on the road, the Canucks beat them in the first two games of the series at Rogers Arena.
However, the Canucks are 0-2 in Game 5s when they’ve had a chance to close out a series and the Sharks scored a shootout win here in the regular season.
San Jose enters Tuesday’s game after surrendering three 5-on-3 power-play goals in a second-period blitz of one minute 55 seconds.
“No disrespect to Vancouver but we’ve been beating ourselves a lot,” said Murray who created one of those two-man advantages with a delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck out of the rink.
“We have not been very good on execution, we have not been very clean in our play.”
There’s been a plethora of power plays for both teams. Of the 28 goals scored over four games, 15 have come with the man advantage.
The Canucks are 9-for-23 with extra attackers, while the Sharks have converted 6-of-18 chances.
“You’d think teams would be a little smarter not taking penalties, especially this stage of the season so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a lot of 5-on-5 hockey tomorrow night,” Mitchell said.
McLellan saw a spark in Sunday’s third period when the Sharks scored the game’s last two goals.
“For a team that was demoralized from three 5-on-3s I thought we recovered real well,” he said.
“That was the beginning of Game 5, I believe. The mindset was good there and we’ve got to carry it over.”
If they don’t, they’ll be facing questions about under-achieving in the post-season again.
The Sharks were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks in last season’s Western Conference final.
Twoyears ago they won the President’s trophy as the NHL’s best regular-season team, only to lose in the first round to the Anaheim Ducks.
Winger Ryane Clowe, who punched Ryan Kesler in the face with a gloved fist at the end of Sunday’s game, said the Canucks realize they’re one game from the Stanley Cup final.
“We’re going to have to prepare for a good start,” Clowe said.
“You’ve got to play loose and go for it and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
NOTES: Injured Sharks defenceman Jason Demers, out for the first four games of this series, says it’ll be up to McLellan whether he’s on the ice on Tuesday … his spot in the lineup has been taken by Kent Huskins … the Canucks were well off the pace for a playoff-record fastest three goals … that belongs to the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs who scored three on the Atlanta Flames in a 23-second span.